Harry Mayerovitch Profiled in Montreal Gazette For Way to Go

“Drawing on a life's work: Harry Mayerovitch is publishing a new book, way to go, just in time for his 94th birthday: 'As you get older, whatever you might lose in energy, you make up for in efficiency'” / Montreal Gazette / Ian McGillis / April 3, 2004

There are times, listening to artist/architect/musician/poet Harry Mayer-ovitch talk about his life and work, when you're caught up short. Take the moment when he's reminiscing about his undergraduate days at McGill and mentions the name Leacock. Oh, you think, he had some classes in the Leacock Building. Then it hits you: he's talking about Stephen Leacock the man. Harry, you see, was in an economics course taught by Leacock. In 1926.

There's a fact that must be stressed here, if only because, on meeting the man, it's so hard to believe: Harry Mayerovitch, whose new book of cartoons, Way to Go, has just been published by internationally renowned locals Drawn & Quarterly, will be 94 on April 16.

"He swore he'd make an economist of me, which shows what a humorist he was," says the sole surviving member of McGill's Class of '29 about his Leacock experience.

Having entered McGill intending to go into law, the undergrad Mayerovitch found himself sidetracked one day when he spied some architecture students at their drafting tables and had a happy vision of spending his life with pencils and paper.

"It was only after enrolling in the school of architecture that I began to realize I could draw," he recalls. "That's the beginning of my story and the end, really, because my life has been a combination of my architectural practice and my drawing, painting and sculpting and whatnot."

Endlessly energetic, sporting a multi-coloured Navajo-pattern shirt (and, it has to be said, looking better than Keith Richards), Mayerovitch is happy to serve his visitor a beer and give a guided tour of his two adjoining apartments just outside Westmount, stuffed to bursting with nearly a century's accumulated art and memorabilia. It strikes one that in a time of ever-increasing compartmentalization, Mayerovitch is a throwback, refreshingly professing to feel no contradiction in pursuing such a range of interests.

"No, none at all. What has been exciting for me has been a lifetime of experimenting in different areas. I find it rather easy because the same rules apply to all of them: a sense of order, integrity, sequence, movement, contrast. And I've tried to be sure everything I do has some social utility."

As an architect, Mayerovitch has had a hand in countless buildings, including a house for Brian Mulroney and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers' building on President Kennedy Ave. As an artist, he first came to wide attention as head of the NFB's graphics department during the Second World War, advancing the war effort through film posters. He had been fired with a sense of art as tool for social change following a trip to Mexico, where he was exposed to the work of Diego Rivera and the other great muralists.

Way to Go, the new volume, is less explicitly social, consisting partly of cartoons on the theme of the shadow, which were first published in 1973 and praised by Steven Guarnaccia of the New York Times for their "crisp, witty line" and "timeless quality." The biggest hook though, will likely be the most recent drawings, done in 2002-03 and playing with images of coffins and tombstones or, as the artist puts it, showing "elegant ways of getting buried." It seems an eminently sensible way to handle thoughts of mortality.

"Maybe it is one way of saying 'I'm not going to be around a whole lot longer, so why not laugh at it?' "

Asked if his daily creative routine has benefited from experience, he says "Oh, sure. I find that as you get older, whatever you might lose in energy, you make up for in efficiency." Keeping busy clearly isn't a problem. The Gazette's photographer has to work around Mayerovitch's schedule: Monday wouldn't do because that's the day he takes his creative writing class at McGill.

"I generally don't think in words as easily as I do in drawn lines, so it's been an eye-opener for me," he says of his sessions with 15 fellow seniors. "I've had a wonderful time discovering I can also use the written word as a means of expression to fairly good effect."

Among the crowd at his Blue Metropolis launch will be his four children, now approaching retirement age themselves. When told that he shouldn't be surprised if he also attracts some of the much younger hipster crowd associated with Drawn & Quarterly, he laughs, "If I'm in that scene now, I got in through the back door."

Way to Go, By Harry Mayerovitch, will be launched today at 2 p.m., at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1255 Jeanne Mance St.

Ian McGillis is a Montreal writer.

Color Photo: PHIL CARPENTER, THE GAZETTE / Harry Mayerovitch at home: when he mentions Leacock in discussing his student days at McGill, it dawns on one that he's talking about the man, not the building.; Cartoon: DRAWN & QUARTERLY / Many of Harry Mayerovitch's drawings poke fun at death.

Share on Facebook
Share on Tumblr
Share via Email