National Post Features Harry Mayerovitch and Way To Go

“A line of work: Nonagenarian man of many talents Harry Mayerovitch has just released a new book of drawings, many of which seem to be laughing at the thought of an old man's death” / CanWest News Service / Ian McGillis / April 6, 2004

There are times, listening to artist/architect/musician/poet Harry Mayerovitch talk about his life and work, when you're caught short. Take the moment when he's reminiscing about his undergraduate days at McGill University 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 Drawn & Quarterly, will be 94 on April 16.

"He swore he'd make an economist of me, which shows what a humourist 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, 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 multicoloured Navajo-pattern shirt, Mayerovitch is happy to serve his visitor a beer and give a guided tour of his two adjoining apartments just outside Montreal's Westmount neighbourhood, 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, he 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 up with a sense of art as a 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."

(The Gazette)

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