Author Tags: Art, Jewish

Pnina Granirer grew up in Romania and Israel. Her paintings express her belief that "beauty has always existed side by side with violence, cruelty and war."

Pnina Granirer has exhibited her work locally, nationally and internationally in Paris, Strasbourg, the US, Prague, Santiago de Compostela (Spain), in Coimbra (Portugal) and in Santiago (Chile).

In 1993 Granirer co-founded Artists in Our Midst, the first ongoing Open Studio Walk in Vancouver, BC. She organized and hosted discussions about art via many Philosophers’ Cafés, sponsored by Simon Fraser University.
Her works can be found in numerous private and public collections, nationally and internationally, such as the Glenbow
Museum in Calgary, the Yad Vashem Centre in Jerusalem, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, BC, the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George, BC, the Richmond Art Gallery, BC, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, ON, the Museo Eugenio Granell in Santiago de
Compostela, Spain, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile, and many more.

A forty-year retrospective of 120 works at the Richmond Art Gallery in January 1998 reflected the artistic development over her long career. The lavishly illustrated book Pnina Granirer: Portrait of an Artist by Ted Lindberg (Ronsdale Press 1998) was launched at the opening of the exhibition.

The Trials of Eve, a major work of 12 mixed media drawings and 12 poems, now in the collection of the Glenbow Museum in
Calgary, Alberta, was published as a limited edition book of 100 copies by Barbarian Press, and as a softcover edition of 500 copies in 1993. A film by Gretchen Jordan-Bastow based on this work was first shown at the Fifa in Paris, on Bravo!TV, on Knowledge Network and other venues.

The artist's exhibition, "Juxtapositions" included many paintings reproduced in her book The Trials of Eve (1990).

In 2005, a film about Granirer’s work by Mehdi Ali was launched on Bravo! TV.

In 2014, her work was included in the encyclopedia of international Surrealism by Arturo Schwarz, Il Surrealismo — Ieri e
Oggi (Italy) and in a 5-page chapter in José Miguel Pérez Corrales’s anthology, Surrealismo: El Oro del Tiempo (Spain).

See Joan Givner's review of Graniner's autobiography. [Below]

[BCBW 2017] "Art"

Pnina Granirer: Portrait of an Artist
Review (1998)

Pnina Granirer was born of Jewish parents in the Danube port-city of Braila, Romania, in 1935.

"Only now do I understand how lucky we had been to escape the camps and death trains," she says.

She was fortunate again in 1950 when she and her mother were allowed to emigrate to Israel where she was reunited with her father who had fled Communist persecution via a Yugoslav freighter.

Named Paula in Romania, she adopted Pnina -- meaning pearl in Hebrew -- and married a fellow Romanian emigre in 1954. Her family immigrated to Illinois in 1962, then moved to Ithaca, New York in 1964.

"I remember my surprise," she recalls in Ted Lindberg's Pnina Granirer: Portrait of an Artist (Ronsdale $39.95), "having just arrived in North America, that one could get a Master of Fine Arts degree."

Published in conjunction with a 40-year retrospective of her art at the Richmond Art Gallery, Lindberg's study includes 195 full-colour representations and text to examine her highly literate and spiritual approach to art.

In 1969 one of her monoprint drawings of her son, David, was selected for the cover of the UNICEF calendar. Reminiscent of works by William Blake, her Trials of Eve suite (1980-81) melded Old Testament and Westcoast Native symbolism.

A diptych from her 1988 exhibition Fear of Others -- Art Against Racism is now in the collection of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in New York.

Her Kyoto/Buddha series led to "In Search of Eden", a suite that epitomizes her synthesis of mythological themes and sustaining spiritual concerns.

"My angels have human faces," she says. "They are whimsical, happy, ironic. They look at the vibrant poppies so full of vitality and seem to say, 'You have the gift of this wonderful planet, take good care of it! Are you using your skills as an artist to enhance life, or are you just passing through?'

"In effect, working with these images is like therapy for myself -- I realize I need to look at the lighter side of life. In spite of all the darkness and misery in the world, we have to create or our own Edens. In my sixtieth year I have come to accept the fact that Paradise is an elusive goal; I can only keep up the search."

[BCBW 1998]

All about Eve and Pnina
Review (2017)

by Joan Givner

Light Within the Shadows: A Painter’s Memoir (Granville Island $24.95) by Pnina Granirer deftly weaves together two narratives: Granirer’s journey as a Romanian Jew who survives World War II and immigrates to North America, as well as her awakening as an artist who develops into a celebrated painter.

Pnina Granirer’s childhood was lived under the brutal, fascism of the Iron Guard, an ultra-nationalist, anti-semitic movement, fueled by Orthodox Christian zealousness, under the dictatorial direction of Horia Sima. When Ion Antonescu came to power in September 1940 and soon destroyed the Iron Guard, the Romanian Jewish community were seemingly less endangered than other Eastern European Jews.

But freedoms were steadily eroded. Ownership of telephones and radios were forbidden, cars and finally homes and libraries were plundered. Only much later, when she read I.C. Butnaru’s The Silent Holocaust: Romania and Its Jews, did Granirer understand the full extent of the devastation: half the Jewish population had been slaughtered.

Cattle trucks stood ready to deport the remaining Jews to the death camps, even as the country was “liberated” by the Russian army. This salvation, greeted rapturously at first, turned into another form of persecution. Under Communist rule, Granirer’s father, a committed socialist, was forced into hiding until he could be smuggled out to Israel. The rest of the family eventually followed him, their emigration made possible by Israel’s willingness to pay ransom for Romanian Jews, the largest number of European Holocaust survivors. Granirer and her mother were each ransomed for $100.

She describes her adolescent years in Israel as relatively happy ones, in spite of the poverty and crowded conditions. As an immigrant who didn’t know the language she worked hard to gain an education, met a fellow Romanian who became her husband and, until marriage exempted her, did the required military service. The young couple hoped to remain in Israel but their departure, like that of most “brain drains” world-wide, resulted from the lack of jobs. The Hebrew University had no position for her husband, who had earned his Ph.D in mathematics there. The U.S, on the other hand, propelled into the space race by the Russian success of Sputnick, was recruiting mathematicians.
Her husband’s career brought them first to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, later to Cornell, and finally to Vancouver, where Granirer began to find her way as an artist. As a schoolgirl she had been assigned the dubious and frightening task of producing a portrait of Stalin; in Israel she had found employment in factories that produced painted clocks and lampshades but, lacking a green card in the U.S., she was unable to work. Instead, she discovered a new freedom in drawing and painting to please herself, practising art for art’s sake.

It was in Vancouver in 1965 that she made her first association with a gallery--the small Danish Art Gallery run by Peder Bertelsen. There, at the age of thirty, she made her debut exhibition. A year later, a second exhibition was scheduled in Victoria at a small gallery on Pandora Street. This brought her into contact with the artists who in 1971 formed The Limners Group—Pat Martin Bates, Herbert Siebner, Karl Spreitz, Myfanwy Pavelic and others. She was honoured that Maxwell Bates bought one of her woodprints.
During a year in Montreal, her camaraderie with artists living bohemian lives devoted exclusively to their art made her question the effect on her work of her own conventional life as a wife and a mother. Her doubts were reinforced by talking to other female artists and by attending a workshop in 1980 with Judy Chicago, whose sensational work The Dinner Party was drawing crowds. Judy Chicago’s statement that no woman artist can ever make it big if she has a family resonated and propelled Granirer her into her most ambitious work.

The Trials of Eve examines the subjugation of women, beginning with the creation myth in the first two chapters of Genesis. Her model for the figures of Adam and Eve was a wooden marionette—face blank, race undefined, sex ambiguous, limbs easily manipulated. For the voice of Eve she chose the symbol of the Cannibal Bird of First Nations mythology. The structure of the series, to which she added lines of verse, echoed that of a play in three acts.
After exhibitions in Burnaby and at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Trials of Even became the basis of an award-winning book and was made into a film, shown at two international festivals. It is now part of the permanent collection at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
Her next project, The Carved Stones, was inspired by the rocks and stones of the Gulf Islands that display wild nature in its purest form, and by her contemplation of the contrast between them and the man-made statues of historical figures she saw in Paris.
Her involvement with an international organization Fear of Others: Art Against Racism inspired Out of the Flames, a triptych depicting war, destruction and survival. This was accepted by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem for its permanent collection and later included in the exhibition Virtues of Memory: Six Decades of Holocaust Survivors’ Creativity.
For this memoir, each step in Granirier’s career is illustrated with her work—from the drawings she made of places and people in Israel and the mid-west to the ambitious paintings of her final period. The paintings, many from The Carved Stones series, are reproduced in full colour. The visual component adds a rich dimension to this artist’s account of living and creating through eight decades of monumental upheaval and change.

Biographer and novelist Joan Givner now writes from Victoria.

[BCBW 2017]

Light Within the Shadows
Review 2017

REVIEW: Light Within the Shadows: A Painter’s Memoir

by Pnina Granirer

Vancouver: Granville Island Publishing, 2017. $24.95 / 978-1-926991-83-2

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


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