Featured Artist May 2017 - Pnina Granirer, visual artist

Gallery ~ www.pninagranirer.com ~ pninagra@gmail.com  604-224-6795

Interviewed by Mary Bennett

I met with Pnina at the Lokal Café at 4th & Trafalgar. Some of the upcoming events that Pnina will be featured at include:

Creative Neighbours Salon
Sun April 30
, Hastings Mill Museum, 1-4pm (presentation: 2-3) with Joanne Brown and Jackie Conradi-Robertson. Creativeneighbourssalon.wordpress.com

Book Launch for Light Within the Shadows: A Painter's Memoir
Thurs May 25 at 7 pm at Lord Byng School


Have you been doing art for a long time?

Some 60 years.

How did you begin?

It’s not that you wake up one day and become an artist. It happened gradually beginning in my childhood.

I went to art school in Jerusalem and studied graphics, what we call here “commercial art”, thinking that it was the only way I could make a living.  After graduation I worked in illustration for a few years, doing filmstrips of children’s stories, poetry books, book covers and other things.

In 1962 we went from Israel to the U.S. where my husband got a job teaching at the University of Illinois. But I had no work permit, so I began making art for art’s sake.

Was there a point when you decided to take art making more seriously?

The interesting thing is that when you’re not paid people don’t take you seriously as an artist. They just see the fact that you are making art as something nice, but not very important. At the time, I didn’t feel I was being taken seriously as an artist. And I had doubts myself.

Then one day, somebody looked at my drawings and asked, “I’d like to buy this. How much is it?”
That was when I realised that if someone actually wanted to pay for my art, they must feel that it is valuable and that gave me more confidence. From then on, I started taking myself more seriously.

You’ve worked in a variety of media: drawing, painting, printmaking, mixed media and so on.

Yes, but I never did sculpture.

Tell me about your training in art.

All my teachers were Europeans, so I was trained in the European style: figurative, with a great emphasis on drawing. I also did woodblock prints and etchings. I like woodblock prints, because they are so direct. We didn’t use a printing press and printed the block by hand. I think that’s much better. It feels much more alive.

We had intended to move back to Israel after the three years in the U.S, but there were no university jobs there for my husband, who had a PhD in Mathematics, since at the time there was only one university, in Jerusalem. Our visa for the US was expiring and the obvious alternative was Canada, which, like the US, had openings everywhere. That was due to the space race that had begun after the Russians sent up the first Sputnik. There was a need for mathematicians and scientists.

And so we came to Vancouver. After a year, my husband was offered a position at the University of Montreal in 1967. That year we went back to Israel for a visit, hoping to stay. But there were still no jobs. We had moved six times in five years and we had enough, so we decided to stay in Canada and return to Vancouver.

I know you had an 80th birthday and sale a year or two ago. At that point I understood that you were retiring from painting, but now you’re back!

Yes, it was my birthday and my 50th anniversary of being in Canada and I wanted to do something special to celebrate these important milestones. I decided to do something unusual. I invited people who had bought my work in the past or knew me, to be my gallery for nine days, while I had a show at the Visual Space and my open studio during Artists in our Midst. As my gallery, I offered the public the commission I usually pay to a gallery, which is 50%. So the buyers could buy my work at half price and I made as much as if I had sold through a gallery, so it was a win/win situation and everyone was happy. Forty pieces were bought.

I could not have done this if I had a gallery, since it is not ethical for an artist to sell for less than the gallery price where the work is shown. I’ve been with the Bau-Xi gallery for over 12 years and some others after that, but right now I don’t have one and this gives me much more freedom to do what I please.

During the past five or six years I’ve been writing a memoir, so I have not been painting. I realised that if I wanted to accomplish my goal of writing a book, I had to concentrate and focus only on that. It has been very labour intensive, lots of editing and correcting that took almost two years after writing it.



So – to answer your question as to why I’m back, it is because my book will come out in May and I felt that this event is a closing of a circle for me. It is fitting to celebrate this at the same time as the 25th anniversary of Artists in our Midst that I co-founded with Anne Adams in 1993. I am truly sorry that Anne is not with us anymore to enjoy this celebration.

I can’t do something well if I don’t focus. My memoir is done so now I’ll focus on my art from my very beginnings and show some very old pieces. Art is forever, right?

At the Roundhouse opening, I’ll be showing wood engravings from my first job of illustrating a poetry book in Jerusalem, after graduation. The prints are carved on round slices of olive wood and I’ve never shown them before: they’re the beginning of my life as an artist.

The book launch will be on the 25th of May at 7 pm at Lord Byng School – exactly a week after the Roundhouse opening.

For my open studio at the end of May I’ll be doing something similar to my celebration in 2015, but with a difference. My son David has developed a unique program called Stand up for Mental Health (SMH), where he teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building confidence and fighting public stigma. He does this across the U.S., Canada and Australia. Unfortunately, there is almost no support for mental health in Vancouver, and they are always struggling to raise money. During my open studio I‘ll offer my paintings on canvas and large prints at half price and donate the proceeds to SMH.

What have you learned from being an artist?

Be ready for the hard knocks of disappointment and rejection, but also appreciate the wonderful world that your art opens for you.

To students who ask me how to get a gallery and make a career in the arts, I say: get a day job or find a spouse who will support you. If you sell, that’s great, but don’t count on it.

Marianna Schmidt, who was a wonderful and accomplished artist, took a job as lab technician at VGH, since she did not want to compromise her art by working in order to sell.

You have to develop a thick skin and be able to take rejection, which is more widespread than acceptance.

If you are serious about your art, keep working and explore different things. Myself, I’ve done prints, painting, drawing, acrylics, mylar and have explored various techniques.

Show your work! I’ve met people who consider themselves artists, but they have very small inventories and not enough work to show. I wonder how serious they are?

If you are steadfast, you will eventually find your own voice as an artist.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a dealer, Werner True, who ran the Mido Gallery in Vancouver. I was in a show group there while working in different styles and he said to me, “What you’re doing is like throwing a stone in a lake - and there are no ripples. Stay with an idea for a while; work in series so you may develop your idea in depth.”

Since then I have always worked in series. I keep working as long as it’s still exciting and once I begin repeating myself I know that it is time to move on.

But that has dangers too. When I’m done with a series of works, I ask myself after the exhibition: What am I going to do now? Will I ever get another idea? You have to trust that something will always come.

What from your artistic training do you value most at this time?

Drawing. Absolutely. Drawing is the basis of art.

Now, with conceptual art and installations, it’s not so important any more. I’m not supportive of that.

Drawing is the direct expression of reality and imagination.

With which past or contemporary artists or artworks do you, as an artist, feel a connection? What is it that draws you to them?

What I like about Gauguin and Van Gogh is that they did not follow the trends. Gauguin was rejected by the impressionists, because he did not work in their style. I like the intensity of his emotion and the conviction of his own way, which did not include doing what the others were doing. As for Van Gogh, he poured his soul onto the canvas and developed his own, unique language, despite of a total lack of commercial success.

Also Rembrandt. A lot of the Dutch painters, the German Expressionists, Kathe Kolwitz.

Any Canadian painters come to mind?

I mentioned earlier Marianna Schmidt. Also Norman Laliberté, Alistair Bell and David Blackwood, Susan Point. There are many others as well.

Do you visit galleries and studios to get inspired?

Sometimes.

I know that you started Artists in our Midst twenty-five years ago with Anne Adams. Tell me a bit about that.

Our husbands were colleagues. She and I both had open studios, and she suggested doing it together.

We had just come back from Paris where I went to see le Génie de la Bastille, a whole week of open studios in the Bastille neighbourhood, with an exhibition at the City Hall.

Remembering this, I suggested to Anne that we should try to do something similar here. Not knowing whether there were enough artists in the neighbourhood, we asked the Courier newspaper for help and they generously printed an article about us with a call to artists. The Vancouver Courier has been our most steadfast supporter ever since, giving us free ads for our events for the last 25 years and we are most grateful.

In 1993, about 30 some artists answered our call and Aberthau, the West Point Grey Community Centre, offered us the space for the exhibition that became a yearly event.

I proposed two principles:

1. Keep it small, not more than 20-22 studios – so visitors may have easy access and make the event more intimate.

2. I also felt that we should not apply for government grants. Businesses yes, they could offer support, but not the taxpayers. Artists should show that they are able to stand up for themselves.

In the second year, since the number of application grew substantially coming from other neighbourhoods, we split into three separate groups so as to keep the area and the number of artists small. We had three separate openings in West Point Grey, Kitsilano and Dunbar/Kerrisdale.

We were the first “art walk” in Vancouver and we got a lot of coverage in the Georgia Straight, the Vancouver Sun and on radio.

Various artists from the North Shore, Richmond and other areas approached us wanting to start their own art walks and to borrow our name. At first we thought it would be a good thing. But then we realised that people would find it confusing. One group called themselves “Artists among us” instead.

I truly think that we inspired many other similar events in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

When we started there was no email nor internet. We had a telephone tree and snail mail. It was very different. It’s much more complex now and of course, we have a lot more competition.

I’m very impressed with the organization and the efficient work this year. The website is very good, and so are all the postings on social media.  There are new initiatives and the event has changed shape by spreading out all the way west of Main.

I feel like a parent whose child has grown up and now leads his own life.

What are your hopes for your own participation in Artists in Our Midst this year?

Pnina: (laughing) Well, I hope I get a lot of people and I hope I sell a lot of work so I can donate a substantial amount to Stand up for Mental Health. And I also hope that people will buy my book.