Susan Avishai

ABOUT ME: BIO

My creative life began the night my father's ballpoint pen dropped from his pocket as he bent over to tuck me in. I was two years old, the sheet my canvas, and the experience heady.

Growing up in Montreal in the 1950’s, I had the great good fortune to spend Saturday mornings making art with Arthur Lismer at the Musee des Beaux Arts. Few teachers taught joy as he did. At eighteen I was footloose at the Academie Julien in Paris, drawing the nude model while sitting on the same benches once warmed by the back-ends of Gauguin and Rodin, deciding that yes, I was inexorably hooked. Nothing seemed to compare with the magic and power of making life appear on a sheet of paper.

I returned to Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in Montreal to complete a BFA (1971). This was a time of upheaval in the art world. Hard edge and colour field painters challenged us realists to think very differently about space, surface, the world as reference, even about paint itself. I studied with Ghitta Caiserman-Roth, Alfred Pinsky, then at OCA in Toronto, with Dennis Burton's collection of practicing artist/teachers, among them Arthur Handy, James Boyd, Graham Coughtry, Hugh Mackenzie and Gordon Rayner. But interestingly it is only now in my 50's that I am beginning to understand and embrace what I resisted then.

I married, and raised children in Jerusalem, then New York, eventually settling in Boston. During those years my prints and drawings were both reflective of a sense of foreignness and isolation, and a sanctum from the disruptions of moving and change and the responsibility of small children. I began a series of silverpoints of lingerie and unmade beds, pale and intricate drawings which Ghitta called my whispering. In time my fascination with fabric and how it drapes on the human form became a twenty-year study I call Scapes of the Clothed Figure. These drawings and paintings, volume pumped up, were shown in solo and juried exhibitions in the U.S., and Canada.

Concurrently, I ran a freelance illustration business during the twenty-five years I lived in Boston. Well over a dozen children's picturebooks were published using my illustrations, and I worked for magazines and educational publishing, including the drawings for the Unitarian Universalist sexuality curriculum taught all over North America. In 2001 I returned to school for a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing at Hollins University in Virginia. There, between writing seminars, I escaped to the studios and painted under the brilliant tutelage of William G. White.

I returned to Canada in 2005, first to Ottawa and now I live in Toronto. And after several decades of a nearly photorealistic approach I see a huge leap in scale and concept in my recent drawings and paintings. I believe they now invite more dialogue. They convey a messier worldview, an acceptance of mistakes and complexity, a willingness to go for the new that I may have feared and pushed away earlier in my life. The new abstract paintings are stronger statements of my weaknesses, ironically. They are also incredibly more engaging to create.