Left to right: Simon Bonettemaker, Hinda Avery, Claire Cohen and Colin Nicol-Smith. (photo by Olga Livshin)
“We decided we’ll be the Peretz Painters,” said Colin Nicol-Smith, one of the collaborators of the inaugural art show that opened on July 16 at the new art gallery in the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. The other “Peretz Painters” include Claire Cohen, Hinda Avery and Simon Bonettemaker.
Nicol-Smith knows both Avery and Cohen through the Peretz Centre, and Bonettemaker was his long-term business partner in their engineering consulting firm. In an interview with the Independent, Nicol-Smith said that the idea for the show and the gallery first came up after a conversation with Avery.
“She said that the lounge would be an ideal place for an art gallery. I agreed and put it in front of the board – I’m a member. The board agreed, too. So, I contacted the others, and we decided we would be the first to exhibit here.” The plan is for an annual summer show at the gallery. “All other months of the year the lounge is too busy,” Nicol-Smith explained.
The stories of the four Peretz Painters are as different as their art.
Cohen is a professional artist. She has a bachelor’s degree in fine art and a master’s in art therapy. Her paintings feature the theme of music. The instruments in the paintings blend and dance with other forms, producing multiple and complex associations. Architecture and flowers, people and history mesh with musical nuances – a string, an elegant cello neck, a snippet of notes – as lines and shapes flow into each other. The paintings vibrate with color. They are festive, celebrating the artist’s love of classical music. “Classical music is part of my life. I always listen to it when I paint,” said Cohen.
Art makes her whole and happy, and that’s why she went into art therapy. “I wanted to give more meaning to my art, help others with it,” explained Cohen, who has worked with private clients and addicted teenagers. “I tried to help them focus on expressing themselves through art. Addiction stopped them from feeling, but art is a tricky way to help one to open up. Talking about themselves is hard for them. But, through art, they can.”
According to Cohen, art helps all of us deal with problems, with voids in our lives, and Avery can testify to the therapeutic effect of art in her own life. A former academic who taught at the University of British Columbia, she has been painting full time since she retired. Her artistic journey started after a trip to Europe in search of her family roots.
“Many women in my family, the Rosen family, were murdered by the Nazis because they were Jews. No records exist, but I needed to know them, so I started painting them.” At first, she used old family albums and war photographs to produce her paintings. Her compositions resembled real life and were imbued with sadness, reflecting the Holocaust.
“I depicted the murdered women as grim resistance fighters, but it felt constrained. I wanted to distance myself from the sombre historical reality, wanted the women to win. My latest paintings are like giant graphic novels. The women transitioned into gun-slinging folks. They mock the Nazis. They are not victims anymore, not intimidated. I wanted to confront atrocities with my absurd revenge fantasy.”
The show has two Avery paintings on display. One is a giant panel of “Rosen Women,” dressed in bright yoga tank tops and fitted cropped pants in neon colors, laughing and brandishing their weapons at Hitler. The second is a small, black and white caricature of Hitler. The pathetic little man depicted doesn’t stand a chance against the droll defiance of the Rosen heroines. The artist’s humor keeps her family alive long after they perished in the Holocaust.
Nicol-Smith is another retiree who found an artistic second wind. “I always drew,” he said. “But, as a consulting engineer, my drawings were technical. After I retired 16 years ago, I wanted to paint. I studied painting for two years at Langara.”
He paints from photographs, his own or those taken by others. One of his best paintings, of a Vancouver beach, is based on a photo taken by his grandfather in the 1900s. Unfortunately, it is not in the exhibit. “My wife likes it so much she refused to allow me to sell it,” he said. “My series of paintings on display at the show, ‘Four Significant Figures,’ is comprised of four male images. I’m interested in the topic of a male body.”
Unlike Nicol-Smith, who retired to paint, his former partner, Bonettemaker, hasn’t retired yet. “I’m an architectural technologist, semi-retired,” he said. “I have been painting watercolors for years. As an artist, I’m self-taught, but my paintings are close to architectural designs, very realistic, with distinctive details: landscapes, seascapes, still life.”
Sharp lines and quiet, subdued colors characterize his artwork. His Vancouver streets and shores, totem poles and sailing boats blend reality with fantasy. “I combine photos and imagination in my paintings, sometimes use elements from several different sources in one picture.” All of his paintings are from the 1990s. He hasn’t painted in awhile. “I’m thinking about retiring,” he said. “Then I’ll have more time to paint.”
The Peretz Painters exhibit runs until Aug 13.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].