#145 Pnina’s three lives
The Ormsby Review
June 29th, 2017
REVIEW: Light Within the Shadows: A Painter’s Memoir
by Pnina Granirer
Vancouver: Granville Island Publishing, 2017.
$24.95 / 9781926997849
Reviewed by Janet Mary Nicol
Pnina Granirer was creative from an early age, but she didn’t come in to her own artistically until the “third act” of her life journey. This memoir reveals why this is so as the author recounts her beginnings in Romania, followed by immigration to Israel when she was fifteen and then to North America in 1962.
When Granirer eventually settled on Vancouver’s west side with her husband Edmond (“Eddy”) Granirer, a University of British Columbia math professor, she began exhibiting art and building an international reputation while raising two sons.
Granirer has spent most of her life in Canada, yet it is her “back story” — her life in Romania and Israel — which informs these later experiences and consumes two-thirds of Light Within the Shadows.
Using a journal style format, with drawings and photographs accompanying short, thematic chapters, Granirer begins by relaying family histories entwined with accounts of Europe’s shifting political landscape. Born in Braila, Romania in 1935 to Lascar and Carola Solomon, Granirer was an only child. Her Jewish-Romanian parents were a love match, defying their parental plans for an arranged marriage.
In another part of Europe, German leader Adolf Hitler had begun implementing anti-Semitic laws which would lead to the systematic mass-murder of European Jews.
“Houses are secret realms of fantasy and imagination for children,” Granirer writes about the stately two-storey home her family rented in Braila when she was five years old. The house was designed by an Italian architect and owned by a Greek. She grew up alongside other relations, including a female cousin who was like a sister to her. An observant child, Granirer describes secrets within the extended family too. She felt protected and safe, especially trusting of her mother’s strength. Within this atmosphere, Granirer developed a talent for drawing.
After the World War Two broke out, Romania formed an alliance with the Nazis and Granirer remembers her family scrambling into the basement as American bomber planes flew over the city, followed by occupation by Russian soldiers at war’s end.
“A rare oasis in the eye of the hurricane, Braila was a city where most Jews would somehow survive the disasters of war,” she writes. Granirer only learned the full impact of the holocaust on Romanian Jews years later while living in the United States, after reading of I.C. Butnaru’s book, The Silent Holocaust: Romania and its Jews (Greenwood Press, 1992).
Life continued for the author and her family as Romania came under control of Russia’s communist government. Israel was founded in 1948 and a short time later, the opportunistic Romanian regime accepted money from the young country’s government in return for permitting Romanian Jews to emigrate there. Granirer’s father had already escaped to Israel when the author and her mother followed in 1950 under this agreement.
The second phase of Granirer’s life began as she attended high school while living with her parents in a suburb of Haifa. Granirer fulfilled compulsory military duty, married Eddy Granirer, and attended art college in Jerusalem. Her life was carefree and creative. Opportunities in academia for her husband were scarce, however. When the young couple reluctantly moved to the United States, they believed they would return one day.
Eventually settling in Vancouver, Granirer was 39 years old when she was inspired by her young son to create the Childhood Magic series of drawings. “I found my voice as an artist in the early 1970s,” she writes, “after years of wandering through the jungle of artistic styles created by others.” Granirer discovered her finest talent was in drawing and writes that “lines flowed from my pen with a life of their own.”
Her sense of dislocation, the obligations of family life, and the challenges of being a female artist had perhaps slowed her career — but Granirer did arrive. A strong feminist movement had emerged in this period and accounts, in part, for the remarkable success of her series of art pieces entitled “The Trials of Eve.”
Granirer studied the layers of ancient religions and mythologies, including those of the First Nations of the west coast, to illustrate ideas around the biblical story of Eve. The result is a rich visual narrative that has resonated widely and resulted in a book and a film.
More inspiration followed, including a depiction of the mystery and beauty of coastal stones in a series of drawings entitled The Carved Stones, a trio of panels with images based on the Holocaust entitled Out of the Flames, and a series of figure drawings called The Dancers Suite.
Granirer is co-founder of Artists in Our Midst, an annual event, now in its twentieth year, on Vancouver’s west side. Artists open their homes and studios to the community over a weekend in June.
Although Granirer has achieved much since leaving Europe as a teenager, she provides a satisfactory conclusion to her memoir by recounting her 2015 visit to Romania. She succeeded in viewing her childhood home in Braila and found people who remembered her and her family. Returning to Vancouver, she reflects on her mortality and life’s mysteries.
Granirer’s writing — and art work — has undoubtedly helped her in this rumination. Readers are rewarded too, with an enlightening and insightful story of an artist’s life.
Janet Mary Nicol is a secondary school history teacher in Vancouver and a freelance writer. She has written local histories about Vancouver and its people for BC History, Canada’s History, and Labour/Le Travail. She also volunteers with the BC Labour Heritage Centre. Her writing blog is at http://janetnicol.wordpress.com/
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News: October 2008
The Glenbow Museum in Calgary has just acquired Pnina Granirer’s major work, THE TRIALS OF EVE, for its permanent collection.
Glenbow curator Monique Westra describes the work as “daring, moving, witty, original and intelligent”. THE TRIALS, completed in 1981, consists of 12 mixed media drawings and 12 poems. It is structured as a narrative, a play in three acts, and follows the fate of women through the ages. The TRIALS is based on the ancient myth of Adam and Eve and incorporates references from art, religion and history, substituting the Cannibal Birds for the ubiquitous snake. It ends on a positive note, hoping for men and women to resolve the puzzle of which they are a part.
The work has been published as a prize winning limited edition book, a softcover book and a film. It has been exhibited several times and discussed during panel discussions and lectures.
News: June 2008
Pnina Granirer (Vancouver) is one of three Jewish artists who responded to a questionnaire circulated by the authors of Feminist Theology with a Canadian Accent : Canadian Perspectives on Contextual Feminist Theology. Her Trials of Eve suite (1993) is a series of twelve mixed-media paintings, each accompanied by a poem. Each painting portrays an “act” or episode in the drama of creation, “fall” and redemption, from the “testing” of Eve in the garden to the hoped for reconciliation between the two severed halves of humanity, female and male. The title of the work evokes both a court trial and the trials of Job; art critic Lucy Lippard observes that “The Trials of Eve, unlike those of Job, are to be conquered in the name of compassion and understanding.” The two main paintings examined here are scenes in Act Two of the drama, from The Fall to The Labelling of Eve by Unanimous Consent as the one whom Jews, Christians and Muslims alike “put … in a golden shrine as long as she is good and reads her script as written: the Mother and the Whore. It is all God’s will!”
The Verdict portrays Eve being found guilty for all time, particularly by Christian theologians with their doctrine of the Fall and the woman’s culpability in it. In her commentary on the painting, the artist notes that “In 418 A.D., a Church synod declared that death was not a necessity of nature, but rather a direct result of Eve’s disobedience.” Granirer’s Eve (and her Adam) are portrayed as marionettes, indicating that both are stock figures for humanity—“race unimportant, … sex unclear, easily manipulated.” In this retelling of the myth, there is no serpent; the primal woman is tested by Cannibal Birds. In west-coast Aboriginal mythology, the Cannibal Bird attempts to devour a young man in quest of his song, believed to express a person’s inner being. In the intense struggle to prevail, the initiate becomes a wild creature, and discovers his song when he returns to his people and regains his humanity. For Granirer, Eve’s eating of the fruit is “a deliberate and independent act, the first act of free will.” The artist found the Cannibal Bird symbolism especially suitable to express Eve’s inner process of seeking independence from the dictates of a God who “sets the trap for his own creation.” In The Verdict, Granirer explains, “the Cannibal Birds have become part of Eve’s life, haunting her from within and without. Symbols of the guilt placed on women, they have infiltrated her very soul.” The accompanying poem expresses the verdict verbally: “We, of the Highest Court / of Men made in God’s image, / hereby decree / that Eve shall be / forever haunted by her sin. / This is our verdict: / she is guilty for eternity.”
The next scene, The Sentence, is an unusual one to find in a series about Eve, especially by a Jewish artist. Granirer relates that on a visit to Strasbourg Cathedral in France, she was “shocked to see that the craftsman who had designed the window chose to portray Mary Magdalene [sic] lying flat on her belly at His feet. Unlike other representations of similar scenes showing Christ himself or His apostles washing feet … where they were shown kneeling in a dignified posture, here the woman was shown in a totally subservient position.” Christ in his role of the Second Adam looks benignly down on the eternally groveling penitent Eve: “In the stained glass window / enshrined in medieval forms / OFFICIAL POLICY: / woman, like a faithful dog / at her master’s feet, / is sentenced forever / to love and to obey.” Above the window, pencil drawings of women “playing the parts” of glamorous seductresses hover; however, the one at the far left shows the anguish and sorrow the rest are hiding. In subsequent scenes, the “token woman of influence,” the Virgin Mary, “a goddess without power / a virgin / eternally pure” is shown sitting demurely on a little cloud, behind her glorious son, and the Virgin and the Whore are shown side by side in golden shrines topped by symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Adam sits astride on top of the structure, savouring “the sweet taste of the apple” that is “only for him who writes the laws.”
Granirer describes the year-long Trials of Eve project as a personal spiritual journey involving her recognition as a Jew that the jealous warrior God “Jehovah” had lost his appeal for her, her struggle with her own Cannibal Birds of fear and conscience, and her own quest for a vision of a humanity where the two halves of the puzzle, male and female, will interact as equal. In the questionnaire, she states that shortly after The Trials was published, she read and was excited by Elaine Pagels’s Adam, Eve and the Serpent, and that subsequently she has been an enthusiastic reader of feminist theology/thealogy, especially works by Jewish scholars. Her implicit Eve/Job typology is original, as is her reinterpretation of the “temptation” in terms of Kwakiutl mythology. Her identification of Eve with the stereotype of Mary Magdalene as the eternally grovelling penitent whore is also a piece of striking feminist theological interpretation.
From Feminist Theology with a Canadian Accent : Canadian Perspectives on Contextual Feminist Theology
Edited by Mary Ann Beavis with Elaine Guillemin and Barbara Pell
Novalis, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, 2008.
Included here with the permission of Novalis, Saint Paul University, Ottawa
For version with footnotes, click here
The poems follow the art adroitly, they are illuminated by the visual image, they don’t compete for the same space in our attention, or our senses. One serves the other as the script does an actor. I wouldn’t change a thing. It is too beautiful a relationship to break up.
George McWhirter, poet and Head of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Granirer is another Eve, recreating herself in the image of a more inclusive humanity.
Lucy Lippard, art critic and writer
After seeing and reading Granirer’s THE TRIALS OF EVE, we will not think of Eve, the fall from grace or the expulsion from the garden in the traditional way again.
Ann Rosenberg, artist, writer and curator
An amazing accomplishment. There is a sense that runs through all the work that you have remained true to yourself without being caught up in the trend of the moment – or of the decade. There is also a sense of the defining moment, the revelation, the satori which is deeply moving and then is mined for inspiration.
And a sense of incredible work, of devotion to your work which has run through your whole life. This work – and this show – prove what we have known all along, that you are a fabulous artist!
Sometimes it takes a show this extensive, however, to prove it so conclusively.
From the visitor’s book for Celebrating a Life’s Work
Richmond Art Gallery, Richmond BC
Ed Varney, artist, curator, writer
Reviews : Selected Excerpts
Pnina’s work is the kind that you could live with for years and still discover something new.
Laura Anne Holden, Granirer’s art truly unique, The Tribune, Winnipeg, Manitoba
October 10, 1979
Here are works whose strength, power even, which we are happy to salute. At the same time, Pnina Granirer’s work is typically feminine, with its flexibility, its seductiveness and its imaginative expressivity. This exhibition deserves more than just a casual visit; it deserves to be allowed to lead the viewer towards the mystery of the artistic creation, the reflection of the original creation itself.
When Canadians distinguish themselves by originality
Works by Pnina Granirer at Galerie Artal
Le Nouvel Alsacien, Strasbourg
April 19, 1980
Granirer’s exhibition achieves a success that belies the seeming simplicity of the works. Most effective in the exhibition is the transition one sees in moving around the gallery: the child gives way to the youth, who eventually becomes the middle-aged recluse. The works carry the concept mercifully and with subtleties one does not apprehend until much later.
Jerry Szymanski, Of Women and Black Rose, Chrysalis Gallery, Western Washington University
The Bellingham Herald, Bellingham, Washington
October 5, 1984
Even though the artist has already exhibited twice before in Strasbourg and thus is not a stranger to us, she still surprised us by this new height which more than justifies the international reputation she has developed for quite a few years now. All the more so, since far from repeating herself, she treats the most original themes with great control and sobriety, suggesting the silence of the space disturbed by the rumbling of the ocean and the piercing cries of the seagulls. And also by an overwhelming sense of poetry.
Jean Christian, New Works by Pnina Granirer, Galerie Aktuaryus
Les Affiches Moniteur d’Alsace et Lorraine, Strasbourg
February 10, 1987
Over 30 years ago, when Granirer began her career as an artist, she began a process where questioning and self-reflection were important in her work. There is a definite sense of freedom and joy expressed in these works which convey moments of understanding and enlightenment, mixed with passages of questioning and confusion. …Granirer’s search for Eden is ageless and endless and will, I am sure, ensure many more years of output from this dedicated artist.
Amir Ali Alibhai, In Search for Eden
… the artist effectively uses the methods of deconstruction, torn fragments, stenciled texts and juxtaposition of incongruous imagery to focus attention on the process of image making itself. The resulting effect is intended to undermine our confidence in the orthodox and essentially male formulations of both women and nature’s traditionally conceived femininity. In this exhibition we sense the groping of a keen mind in its search for suitable icons in a world from which the sacred has already been excised.
Archie Graham, The Carved Stones, Smash Gallery, Vancouver, BC
North Shore News, North Vancouver, BC
November 20, 1991
Pnina Granirer’s most recent work appears neither angst-driven not a vehicle for popular political agendas. Her hard-won artistic feminism (as opposed to ‘feminist art’) is evinced through an emphatic demonstration of a woman’s passionate visual experience, sparkling internal fantasy and daring association.
Ted Lindberg, Granirer: Portrait of an Artist
Granirer’s recent mixed media works are simpler, less ideological and more exuberant. In these she is mixing it up, tossing it all in the air to see which elements settle on the eye of the beholder. They are frankly celebratory.
Yvonne Owens, The Golden Devil Charm of Pnina Granirer, Richmond Art Gallery
It is Pnina Granirer’s facility for visual language that gives us immediate access to her imagination. Originally, 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 politic, 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.
John Weber, Review of Pnina Granirer: Portrait of an Artist
Books in Canada
She’s outspoken, feminist and subversive, but her deepest loyalties are given to what remains most keenly “human” within us in the face of ideology, mythology and technology. Granirer depicts the tender vulnerability of flesh most poignantly in these new drawings and paintings, with an unidealized treatment of anatomical volumes and forms and an expressive, flowing treatment of gesture and line.
Yvonne Owens, A Look at the Local Galleries
I have always wondered why the most powerful drawings come from smaller, slighter built, even timid people. Granirer has an ability to connect herself with her subject matter and become a conduit of that energy for her own personal interpretation. What is unique is, she doesn’t lose sight of what information is important to put down. This is openly shared with those who wish to experience, learn and remember.
Paul Constable, Pnina Granirer – The Love Making of Art
The soft body versus the hard world: perhaps this is the human predicament. Vancouver-based artist Pnina Granirer has been exploring this dichotomy for the past six years. Her exhibit, Synchronicity, at the Zack Gallery in Vancouver’s Jewish Community Centre, evokes the complex relationships between humans and their contemporary settings. In particular, Granirer is concerned with technology’s mediation of human perception and expression. Through a range of materials, her imagery features dancers, acknowledging the inherent directness of their discipline.
With a touch of irony, Granirer incipiently worked from photos she had taken at Ballet BC and Kokoro Dance rehearsals. But the resulting works are active and responsive. Her translation of the dynamic presence of dance does not simply rest in the imagery, but in the variety of presentation of the pieces. Each of her figures, whether on canvas, mylar or paper, has a quality of energy. They leap, stretch, fall, collapse. The images’ defining lines have been erased, etched, scratched, blurred and overlapped the way a body carries the records of life’s (mis) adventures. Her marks are made with values from the most ephemeral chalk marks to light-denying black paint. Granirer is one of Canada’s veteran artists, classically trained in Israel and Europe, with over 40 years of work behind her. Her interest in the human figure is evident throughout her career, but in the past six years she has focused on it exclusively.
“The purpose of these works is to express the synchronicity of these two basic, non-verbal human activities, dance and visual art”, she says in her artist’s statement. Even the viewer’s physical movement affects how one sees the works. Their presentation includes images of dancers in Plexiglass boxes -a flat drawing in the back of the box and another on a sheet of clear mylar bulging towards the viewer. As one moves past the box, both figures shift in a simple but animated tableau. Other drawings of dancers revel on clear mylar sheets which hang suspended from the ceiling, removing them from the rigidity of walls and frames. In a solo exhibit at the Yukon Arts Centre, Granirer had installed the clear mylar drawings against the gallery walls. One was set forward across a corner giving her the idea to have many of them hung freely in the gallery space. Not only do they shift and interact with each other as the viewer moves, but ambient lighting casts an entire troupe of shadows on the walls around them. During this year’s Chutzpah! Festival in early March, graduating students from Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella dance program added a live, performative element by dancing in and around the drawings. They improvised in direct response to the images. Granirer describes this as the “interaction between the live body and the imaginary one”.
Bettina Matzkuhn, Pnina Granirer – Synchronicity
Medical Review Magazine
November 22, 2005