PATRICIA KUSHNER / Artist - Selected Works


I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1939.  My parents came to Canada as immigrants from Great Britain.  They had four children, and I was the third child.  I had wanted to be an artist since a very young age.

I was married in my teens and raised three children in an abusive marriage, in the lonely isolation of suburbia in the sixties and seventies. In 1971 I applied to the Vancouver School of Art and was accepted. That was the beginning of a great life change. I went through such a tremendous period of growth and transformation during those four years of school. 

I had wanted to become a better painter, but when I was in the painting department, most of the students were applying masking tape to canvases and painting stripes. I became disillusioned with it all, and was so frustrated with my new experience not being what I thought it would be. I talked to an older woman student and she told me to speak to the Design teacher. I told her that I was not interested in the Design department and had looked at the work coming out of that classroom and I didn't like it. She insisted that I talk to the teacher Geoff Rees, as she was sure he could help me.  So I gave in.  I talked to Geoff, and told him how I was feeling, and he said I could just be under the Design Department and go and explore and create, and to just check in with him now and again.  I have always felt somewhat of a misfit, and was that ever good news to me!  I got involved with sculpture and when I was in the sculpture department, the classes had male and female models, and the class would be creating replicas, (I thought), in clay and would then later cast them in plaster.  I tried it for awhile and then got quite bored  The stuff I loved and was attracted to was the stuff they were throwing into the trash!  There were wooden armatures covered in mud and bits of wire, etc., and they were so much more interesting to me!  I started looking for and collecting bits of material to make my own type of sculptures.  During the time at the school, my marriage continued to worsen and I was becoming more fragile.  It was really, really bad.  I worked harder and harder at the school.  I also started to make sculptures in the basement of our house.  I would look for things that would express my anguish and despair.  I discovered a mannequin store in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and over time I purchased several.  At home, I would haul them into the basement and start to bash out my desperation, agony and pain.  There is one that I painted and battered with a hammer, as that was what I felt like inside.  I was being beaten down.  I had no one to turn to, so I took out all of my rage and hurt on the mannequins.  Nearing the end of my time at the school, I brought some of them to the school, and the teachers were amazed and speechless when they saw them.  They did not say anything, except Geoff, who said it was PURE ART.  It is hard to write this.  As well as the design class, I was quite involved with Lithography, and made some lithographic prints showing the same kind of pain.  I enjoyed working with the water and lithotine washes, and incorporating photography in my work.  I graduated in 1975 in Lithography and Design with Honours in both majors.  During my years at art school, I received government scholarships, and was chosen for the Norman Rothstein Award.

Every summer I worked to pay my way through school.  One summer was spent bottling liquid soaps and shampoos in a small factory.  The bottles would come rushing down an assembling line and I would fill each one with liquid.  Something like an "I Love Lucy show".  Another year I worked in a cannery, canning asparagus.  One year I worked as a labourer in a display and design shop, and one time in a fish processing plant on the Vancouver waterfront. Nasty work! I have worked numerous jobs, such as sales , warehouse worker, post office worker, and I have even worked as a movie extra. 

When I graduated from art school, I was on the verge of a complete nervous collapse.  Somehow I survived, and I divorced my husband on the grounds of mental cruelty, and began a new life.  After my divorce, I moved back into the city, and bought an old run down house in East Vancouver.  I did some lithographic printing at the Malaspina Printmakers Society on Granville Island in Vancouver.  It was there that I made the print titled "SUBURBIA".  It was created using photographic images.  I photographed one of my sculptures titled "PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN TRAPPED IN UNHAPPINESS BY FEARS AND RESPONSIBILITIES", with a photograph I took of a typical suburban neighbourhood, and then added a text...I think, for the first time in my work.  The print is in the collection of the Burnaby Art Gallery. In 1976, one of my prints was chosen for the prestigious British International Print Biennale.  My aforementioned sculpture was included in the exhibition, Spectrum Canada at Montreal's Expo 76 at the Montreal Olympics.

I have supported myself as an artist, maintaining a studio, by working in hospitals, and got a job at the Vancouver General Hospital, where I would stay for seven years.  For four years, I managed the Haematology lab office.  We had many outpatients coming in for medical visits with physicians, and also getting their blood work done.  One of the patients became friendly with me, and we would chat each time he came in, and when he was admitted to the hospital, he asked me to come to see him on the ward, and I said I would.  Each time he was admitted, he wanted me to come to see him, and I would sit at his bedside and talk to him.  Sometimes he would get a pass to leave the ward for a couple of hours, and he would sneak out of the hospital and have me go with him.  One time we went downtown, shopping for hats for his bare head.  Another time, we went together to Stanley Park, and walked for awhile until he tired, and then sat on a bench.  He enjoyed watching the ducks in the pond, at the same time, would be very quiet and sad, contemplating the end of his life.  He talked about fairy tales, and how the fairy would grant three wishes.  He said..."I only want ONE wish".  "What's that Joe?", I asked.  "To LIVE!" he said.  Thinking about all this makes me so sad again. Joe died later in the hospital. We were only friends briefly, and I was devastated. After Joe died I started to make an assemblage in his honour, and to remember him by. I built a frame and added some of my found objects to it, but something was missing, then one day I was walking down the street in the rain and I came across a piece of paper on the sidewalk, a child's torn worksheet, and it had on it the word WISH, so I picked it up, took it home and completed the assemblage. I called it "FOR JOE, WHO HAD A WISH".

My studio during this time was in the dark, dingy basement of my old house.  You had to duck in some places as the ceiling was so low.  There was only one bare light bulb for light.  When I was trying to renovate the house upstairs, one part was ripping out old torn wallpaper. It was an old weathered floral design, and I started saving up the torn pieces, and then used some of them in my work. I started doing some collages on paper with my simplified human form and added some wallpaper elements to them. I liked looking through junk stores and thrift shops for odd things, and collecting them, using all of the different elements in my sculptures and assemblages. I created a life-sized plaster figure of a woman seated on a chair, added some of the wallpaper pieces, and also added a cupboard. This piece is titled "SHE WEARS HER UNCOMFORTABLE FEELINGS". I created many works in my basement 'studio', paintings, sculptures and collages, which I exhibited in a large solo show at the Surrey Art Gallery in 1984.

After working very hard full-time for seven years in the Haematology Department and general and emergency Admitting at Vancouver General Hospital to support myself as an artist, I needed a change, so I saved up some money, sold my car, and moved to New York. 

I had a small room in a shared apartment in the East Village, there was no furniture whatsoever in the room, I slept on the floor, and also sat on the floor and painted. I loved the energy, the movement, the multitude of people of so many ethnic backgrounds, the colour and texture of Manhattan. The textures of walls and streets, collages of torn coloured posters, and the people in that urban environment. My small room looked out over First Avenue, around the corner from St. Mark's Place, and I would sit at my window at night and watch the street from my vantage point. I'd see the people walking about, simple dark shapes, simplified human figures like I was using in my work and it sort of crystalized for me, the idea of the simplified human figure. I bought large sheets of paper from Pearl Paint on Canal Street and I called the finished paintings, The New York Series. 

My interest and connection to hospital work was still strong, and I also felt the need to see and be with people, so I signed up for EKG classes at the Eastern Technical School on Fifth Avenue. One day, as I was coming out of the post office, I saw a hospital and decided to go in and volunteer. I ended up volunteering two days a week, in the Emergency Department of the Beth Israel Hospital on First Avenue. I spent almost a year in New York before returning to Vancouver, where I again worked at The Vancouver General Hospital. Two of my paintings are in The Vancouver General Hospital/University Of British Columbia's Art Collection.

In 1985, after a personal crisis, I left Vancouver again, this time for Montreal, where I got a job at the Montreal General Hospital. I worked in various capacities, sometimes in the laundry, sometimes in housekeeping, making beds or scrubbing toilets. I also worked in the kitchen, setting up trays, taking them to patients, doing dishes. While at the hospital, I finally landed a job as a nurses aide, which I enjoyed, I met so many people and really liked working with the nurses and doctors. While working as a nurses aide I helped care for an Auschwitz survivor. When I saw the numbers tattooed on her arm I was so shocked! I held her frail arm and thought to myself I am seeing HISTORY, right before my eyes! Pain, suffering, violence and Man's extreme inhumanity to Man! I was moved to make a painting about her, which I titled "For A-26042, SURVIVOR!". Tears come to my eyes still as I remember the moment.

During my years in Montreal, I had a studio in a rough area on the east side, above a jeans store and next to a nightclub. I would ride my bicycle there after work, carry it up the long stairs, paint or make sculptures for hours, carry my bike down the steep stairs, then ride home. One evening I even got mugged on the way home! When I would go to my studio at night I would see prostitutes standing in the doorways, I would also see them shooting drugs out the back of the building. How sad and depressing. I even saw, from my window upstairs,  men picking up the prostitutes with baby seats strapped in the back of their cars. I would worry for their wives at home, that they would get infected with AIDS, unaware of their husbands activities. I have spent so much time alone, as an artist, quietly absorbing the life around me, and many things in life affect me profoundly. My studio in Montreal was a wonderful place and I created many large paintings and sculptures there. I showed some pieces at La Galerie des Arts Lavalin in Montreal, group shows in Toronto and Vancouver, and at the Vorpal Gallery in Soho, New York.

I was still working at the hospital when they brought in the many surviving victims of the massacre of female Engineering students at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique. I was helping on that floor and as I walked down the hall I could hear the screams and cries of some of the victims. As I walked towards the open doorway of one patient, I was momentarily transfixed - she was lying propped up on the bed and her calm composure and what I perceived as stoicism moved me. A sudden thought came to me in that moment, that she sort of represented women everywhere, then I moved in to talk to her. Again, I was so moved by this tragedy that I made a painting about her. The words for the painting poured out of me and I painted the text over the image of the figure. I think everyone was crying at the hospital that day, seeing all these young women with gunshot wounds, shot by a disturbed young man with a hatred for women. He shot and killed 14 young women that day, such a painful time...heart-wrenching! So much of my art stems from an emotional response to situations and events that I have actually experienced, and which have touched me, the results can be seen in my paintings, they each tell a story. 

I had a lot of experiences in Montreal, some of them wonderful and some not so good. The good - to experience the wonderful spirit of the French culture, but also, racism, intolerance and unfairness, quite depressing and sad. So much of my art stems from an emotional response to situations and events that I have actually experienced, and which have touched me. The effects of these experiences can be seen in my paintings, and specifically, FOR A-26042 SURVIVOR, and LOOK BEYOND WHO YOU ARE. They each tell a story. After spending 6 years in Montreal, I again returned to Vancouver, and again worked at a hospital, this time at St. Vincent's Hospital, first in the Admitting Department and later in the Rehab Medicine Department. I worked there for ten years before I finally left hospital work. I still had my old house in Vancouver and now used what was the living room as a studio. I created many paintings there, including "FOR THE IMMIGRANTS. I have always had a fondness for the immigrant, the stranger, the one who is struggling with the new and unfamiliar. To help financially, I would take in university students to help pay for the mortgage. One such 'student' was a visiting Professor of Mathematics from the Charles University in Prague - Dr.Jaroslav Nesetril, who 
was working at Simon Fraser University (where I would later have a solo exhibition). We became friendly after he saw me painting and told me he also painted. I invited him to collaborate on a painting and we made "Matheart", a large acrylic on linen which brought together ideas of Art and Mathematics. It incorporates figures, shapes and various mathematical elements. We hope to install the painting in a fine institution one day.
In turn, he invited me to come to Prague where he and his wife lived and offered me the use of a studio outside of Prague. I went there for three and a half months, painted in the studio, then had a solo show in a wonderful place, the Rabasova Gallery, which I found out later was a former synagogue. I am very thankful for such an experience.

In 2010, I was invited to participate in a showing of Canadian artists, titled "Heritage Canada", at the Shanghai Expo, in Shanghai China.

In April of 2014 I was invited by the curator of the art program at Homerton University Hospital, London England to do a collage workshop. It was a very interesting and enjoyable experience.

I have lived, painted and exhibited my work in various places including Vancouver, Montreal, New York and the Czech Republic. My work is in collections 
such s the Canada Council Art Bank, the Brazilian Embassy, Ottawa Canada, CFCF TV Montreal, Homerton University Hospital, London,U.K., the Vancouver General Hospital/UBC and others.

I now reside in the south Okanagan where I continue  to work in my studio, creating artworks: collages, paintings, assemblages and sculptures expressing my ideas about life, I have many plans for future works. 

To me, the many years working in the hospital were such an integral part of my life. My interactions with patients and staff from all cultures and walks of life, coupled with my own personal struggles, taught me so much about the human condition, about life! 

I believe an artist is a thinker and can, sometimes, be a visionary of sorts, who should not listen to, or be directed by, others ideas or criticisms, but, should chart their own journey, walk their own path, and in that way only creates and expresses and achieves a truly PURE ART.   

HomeC/V (Curriculum Vitae)Biography
Artist Statement"FOR PSALM 23""COVENANT" (2015)
"LIFE" (2015)"NATALIE" (2015)"TURBULENCE" (2014)
"KALEIDOSCOPE" (2012)"BLOOM" (2012)"WONDER" (2011)
"REUNITED" (2011)"MATHEART" (1992)"SUBURBIA" (1979)

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