Monday, April 6, 2009

Moving forward in time - Alfie and me. .

This post will be moved into the Mies era later. Mies was the Calico female kitten, I adopted after I married Alfred Pinsky in 1961. We met (Alfie and me, that is) when I was an art student at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). I was a freshman who had won the University's scholarship to attend their art college.

Alfred Pinsky was a dynamic teacher with a passionate love of the Arts. He had a monumental knowledge of Art History and made it come alive for us. He has been described as having the best eyes in Canada, meaning he could spot the best in art and artists. I learned more from his composition and art criticism classes than from all the teachers combined, that came later.

Alfie was funny, irreverent and daring. From him, I learned to take risks and break rules as long as they were based in truth. No effect was encouraged that didn't have artistic integrity. But rules were meant as guidelines only.

I was eighteen when I entered University, a middle-class suburban girl with a background in Art appreciation and a healthy disdain for authority. I was enthralled by this learned, intense Jew with the laughing eyes. That should have been where it ended, but it didn't. Alfie had good eyes as I said, and saw in me a great modelling medium. He could mold me to reach for the stars. It didn't hurt that I was also young (19 years his junior) a WASP, very tall and beautiful. He used his mind to seduce me and ultimately married me when I turned 21.

Thus began my journey into maturity. He was a partner with Goodridge Roberts in a Laurentian farm where we built a house and converted the barn and chicken coop into studios. Goodridge and his wife Joan occupied the original farm house. A lot of art was produced there over the next eight years. We enjoyed a wonderful, creative life on that farm and I am grateful for the many years of friendship we all shared. I worked daily in my sculpture studio/chicken coop and my output was prodigious.

When Alfie wasn't in his painting studio/stable, he was in Montreal at the University. He had rapidly moved to professor status and then Chairman. He designed the art program to meet North American standards for a degree granting faculty of Fine Arts and they developed a Masters Program second to none. Ultimately, Alfie became Dean of Arts but the was after my time.

I became one of Canada's first Pop Sculptors (I preferred New Realist) but what's in a name. My exhibition schedule was becoming grueling: Musee des Beaux Arts, Musee Contemporaine du Quebec; New Brunswick, Lord Beaverbrook Gallery; Agnes Etherington Gallery; University of Saskatchewan; Winnepeg and Edmonton Galleries, Dorothy Cameron and Agnes Lefort galleries, Stratford and Place des Arts group expos, etc. etc. I was growing exhausted and not enjoying my work anymore.

In the sixties, a new medium had been developed to make fiber glass boats using Polyester and Epoxy resins. Harry Hollander, the inventor of the process coached me on its use and even featured me in his book "Plastics for Artists". I was becoming everything that Alfie had hoped for. Talk about your trophy wife. The very model of a "brilliant" partner.

I had no idea what I hoped for because my life was so intertwined with his. I think I believed we were happy, but, three developments were the hairline cracks in the veneer of our perfect life together:
  • I was growing very weak and feeling sick all the time and was diagnosed with severe anemia. It took a dedicated country doctor to discover the cause from reading a medical journal from Britain. An article described all my symptoms in British plastics factory workers. Anemia, kidney failure, low libido, no appetite and exhaustion. He drove up to the farm and asked me what materials I was using, how often, and the key question - what type of ventilation. All my answers made it clear that the materials I was using were slowly, silently killing me. I had to stop immediately. Alas, I didn't.

I had been awarded a Canada Council Grant to mount an important solo exhibition in the Sir George Williams At Gallery for the spring of 1968. It was the fall of 67 and I was only half ready so I couldn't stop. I continued to work with that material in a poorly ventilated studio for six more months.

  • The second crack was not unrelated. I had wanted to get pregnant for some time. Alfie was not enthused by my parenting needs. He never said no, he just let me know that a child would mean the end of my sculpting career. He also suggested that as a mother, I would hold less interest for him; that my true vocation was as an artist and I shouldn't sell myself short.
This was not a response that inspired confidence but I became pregnant anyway - twice. Twice I miscarried (possibly due in part to the poison in my system). I miscarried alone because I was afraid to tell him that I was pregnant. Looking back I can say there was something seriously wrong with that picture.

  • The final crack developed from my Sir George Williams University exhibition. The opening date coincided with the 1968 Computer Race Riots. The first large scale student uprising in Canada. The school was in lock down. I was advised to cancel my show because the students who were occupying the campus would destroy my work and the public couldn't get in to see it anyway. My husband and I ended up in opposing camps. I went ahead with the show, betting that the students would not vandalize it. I also felt the message in my work had everything to do with the students' issues and less to do with public access. So the critics came by special invitation, praised and publicised my show, but nobody could get in to see it. By that decision, I threw a huge spanner into the harmony of our marriage. It demonstrated that I was a generation removed from the establishment that Alfie had become. Oh, and as I predicted, the students didn't damage my work and the gallery was open to them throughout the sit-in.

After the show was over, Alfie and I understood that we were packing up our marriage with my work. We carried on, sort of, till spring 1969 and then I moved out.

I left Alfie holding the "most interesting" part of me: my sculptures. There's no space for sculpture in a furnished room anyway.

For better or worse, I became my own person.