Pnina Granirer’s current art exhibit, which is at the Zack Gallery until Dec. 12, features work highlighted in her memoir, Light Within the Shadows. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Pnina Granirer has always been an experimenter. She enjoys trying new artistic techniques, forms and directions. Consistently ignoring the trends, she has forged her own path towards meaning and beauty.
Granirer’s memoir, Light Within the Shadows, was launched on Nov. 16, as part of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival. The event was held in conjunction with the opening of her solo show at the Zack Gallery. As the exhibit includes some of the same paintings and drawings Granirer highlighted in the memoir, it serves as a mini-retrospective of her artistic life.
“People often told me, you had such an interesting life, you should write about it,” she said in an interview with the Independent. So, she did. “I wrote bits and pieces over the years, but my painting always interfered. I’d get distracted by a painting or a series and I would forget what I wrote before. I realized that I couldn’t paint and write at the same time.”
The concept of time is significant. “Time is what differentiates visual art from any other creative expression, like writing or music,” she explained. “According to some research, people in a museum spend an average of three seconds in front of a painting. But, to read a book or listen to a symphony or watch a movie, they have to spend hours. The same is true from the creator’s point of view. When I look at my painting, I see everything at once, all the details. I know what and where I have to fix. But, when I looked at my manuscript, I needed to read from the beginning to remember the details I had written in the previous chapters. I needed time.”
To solve this dilemma, she stopped painting about four years ago to concentrate on writing. “I wanted to tell my story and, for that, I needed words. Painting wasn’t enough anymore,” she said.
Granirer started by reading a number of memoirs. She took creative writing classes. She delved into history and studied old family photographs, while researching her family roots. And she wrote.
“By 2015, I had a very long manuscript, but I still didn’t have the ending. Then, in June 2015, we visited Romania, the country of my birth, for the first time in 65 years. When we came back, I ended up in a hospital. Had two surgeries. Suddenly, I knew what the ending was. I was fortunate. Serendipity is the new motto of mine. Of course, my life was not all roses, but I cherished everything good that happened to me.”
A consummate professional in everything she does, Granirer knew that finishing a manuscript was only half the job. “I needed to structure it in a way that would make sense,” she said. “I decided on a story in three acts to highlight the three stages of my life, three languages, three countries: Romania, Israel, North America.”
She also had to deal with one of the most important considerations for any memoir writer: the people who feature in the book, especially the ones who are still alive. Granirer was very sensitive about the issue. “When you write a memoir,” she said, “you have to think about other people’s feelings, of course, but it was my book, my life. I tried to avoid offending anyone, but I felt I had to be as honest as possible. I didn’t lie. If I couldn’t say anything nice about someone, I often skipped that person. I did mention some disappointments in the book but, mostly, I focused on how lucky I was.”
After that, it was time for test readers. “I asked a few people to read the manuscript, and the feedback was very encouraging. Then I found a wonderful editor – Pat Dobie. She did a stellar job. She cut off about half the text, everything that wasn’t my story, but rather historical background or stories of the other members of my family. Pat said it takes the reader away from my story. She also rearranged some sections and paragraphs to make the flow better.”
The next step – publication. Again, Granirer embarked on a period of extensive research. “I thought about traditional publishing and contemplated looking for an agent, but I didn’t have the time,” she said. “I’m in my 80s. When you send a book to an agent or a publisher, you have to wait for a year to get an answer, and it might not be a yes. But, even if it is, and they accept it, it would take another year or two until publication.”
To skip that waiting time, she published the book herself, with the help of Granville Island Publishing. “They were great,” said Granirer.
Yet more research was needed to choose the right title and the right cover. Of course, the cover would be one of her paintings; that was never in question. It was an artist’s memoir after all. But which painting? After browsing through her archives, Granirer finally picked the painting that became the cover. “It has my son’s footprints, when he was young, like a child’s journey. It seemed fitting,” she explained.
Selecting which illustrations should accompany each of her story’s three phases was another crucial task. “Some of the paintings I included are still in my studio, others have been sold, but I have the JPG files,” she said.
Now, she is deeply involved in the next stage of the publishing business – promotion. As she does everything in her life, she approaches it with panache and determination. In her publishing endeavour, like in her art, she is aiming for total success.
Granirer’s art is at the Zack until Dec. 12.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]