Pnina Granirer:
Portrait of an Artist

194 pages,
ISBN: 092187054X

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A footprint, a dark forest, a mythical bird
by John Weber

Pnina Granirer was born Paula Solomon in Romania in 1935. The strong connection she made as a child to the visual world there is an important factor in her mature art. While she does not show us the very real horror that was the backdrop of her childhood (she and her family survived a war that saw more than half the Jewish population of her country murdered), what she does bring to her mature art from childhood instead is an ability to imagine another universe. The presentation is rich in repeated detail: a foot print, a leaf, a mythical bird. Whatever the detail, the created universe is convincing, and the particular work just one possible view.

It is Pnina Granirer's facility for visual language that gives us immediate access to her imagination. Originality, intellectual content, stylistic integrity, cultural and artistic influences-these qualities evolve, and mature. Command of visual language appears in the early work and remains throughout, and when she brings this facility to an exploration of identity or gender politics, it is immediately clear what she is working out. When she shifts the exploration beyond the personal or even cultural, into the visual experience and perception, we are reminded that "seeing" is the result of perceptual habits. And hers is based on a nurtured imagination and artistic discipline. We get a pretty good show.

Ted Lindberg's text immediately puts the audience in contact with the work and stays focused on presenting Pnina Granirer's art. The works are selected from forty years of art-making. The reproductions and the accompanying text give a clear sense of the artist's evolution and preoccupations. The quality of the reproductions is excellent, as is the design of the book itself. The discussion of the art and Pnina Granirer's professional artistic life is thoughtful, detailed, and well-researched. A selection of national and international reviews is included, as well as a complete list of professional activities, exhibitions, awards, and commissions.

This is a presentation of the artist's work, not a biography. The passages on Pnina Granirer's childhood in Romania, her early work experiences in Israel, and her introduction to North American middle-class life arouse more curiosity than they satisfy. In 1950, her family managed to leave communist Romania and settle in Israel where she received formal art education at the Bezalel Art School. By 1960, she was married with a child and working as a book illustrator and a maker of educational film strips. Ted Lindberg has included twelve reproductions of the work Pnina Granirer did in Israel. The woodblock print, "Alley in Jerusalem", is an accomplished piece and shows us a design characteristic seen in later work. The image appears cropped in a way that encourages the viewer to imagine beyond the frame.

The artist spent 1962 to 1965 in the United States, where her husband taught and studied at Urbana and then Cornell. In 1966, the Granirers moved to Vancouver and then to Montreal. In 1967, they returned to Vancouver, where Pnina Granirer presently lives and works.

Canadian imagery starts to appear in her linear graphic work of the mid-70s.

"Song of Freedom" is a stylized Canada goose in flight. The Canada goose is an accomplished, attractive, but clichéd design. By 1977, her work shows a more visceral connection to the new landscape she inhabits. In the works on paper-"Forest Ghost", "Whispering Forest", and "Dawn"-she shows us a lush coastal forest with hints of a suppressed culture as mysteriously engaging as any European fairy tale. It is acknowledged that Emily Carr walked here, but Pnina Granirer's vision of the dark forest has a unique sense of vertigo.

Perhaps Pnina Granirer's most controversial act of cultural appropriation is the representation of the Cannibal bird in several of her works. The figure of Huxwhukw, the Cannibal bird, in Westcoast Native culture is a creature of terror: it is part of a narrative of fear, and of the role fear can play in reaching a higher state of consciousness. This creature is evidence of a culture of profound psychological sophistication. Its subtle transitional meaning is precisely why Pnina Granirer depicts it in her work.

However blatantly Pnina Granirer may appropriate an artistic style or cultural icon, she honours the source. This is really a factor of her respect for her own work. These are creations of imagination, discipline, and intent. Pnina Granirer is not trifling with anyone's cultural heritage.

"The Trials of Eve" series is an important piece of contemporary Canadian Art, and it should be part of a permanent public collection. Again Pnina Granirer's facility with visual language presents us with a strong, clear narrative. There is a wry visual wit at play in this series that creates a subtext that is sometimes at humorous odds with the main theme. My favourite image of the series is "Eve Tries Again". There is just something about those appliances Eve is going to use to cook this second fruit of the tree that makes me smile. Will Eve succeed? Maybe. Will it get interesting? Most certainly.

Pnina Granirer: Portrait of an Artist is a very handsome book and it will be promoted at the exhibit of her work on from May 9 - June 7, 1999 at Gallery Topaz in Kanata, Ontario. It is hardly surprising to learn that the artist had previously won an Alcuin Society Citation Award for excellence in book design. 

John Weber is an artist living and working on Gabriola Island, B.C.


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