Q & A with Bruno Bobak (April 11, 2007)

1. When and where were you born?

I was born 84 years ago in Wawelowska, Poland on December 28 1923, in the middle ofwinter on the kitchen table.  The snowstorm was so severe that we were snowed in and my dad did the whole business by himself.

2. Do you have brothers and sisters?

I had 2 brothers – I was the youngest my oldest brother Henry was adopted-out because my parents couldn’t afford to bring him up.  I never knew him or where he lived for 60 years until my cousin located him in Louisiana – he died shortly afterwards.

3. Did you like them when you were growing up?

When I was 4 years old my parents broke up – I lived with my father – my other brother, Ernie, lived with my mother – we became good friends when we met 35 years later in Fredericton.  The one passion we had in common was our love for fishing.

4. What was your favourite thing to do when you were a child?

Water was like a magnet to me – I loved fishing & I loved swimming. I remember one warm spring day when there was stiff ice on the river. I was so desperate to get into water that I ended up putting on my bathing suit and getting into the rain barrel, and I pretended I enjoyed it. And when it got warmer I’d go fishing and come home with a perch or two, not much bigger than a gold fish. My step-mom would cook it up for me – and I pretended to enjoy it!

5. Did you have any jobs you had to do for your parents?

As a kid I had certain responsibilities mostly connected to the stove in the kitchen. It was my duty to keep a steady supply of kindling & split wood in the wood-box. And also to carry coal up from the basement, and sell newspapers on the corner of Queen and Spadina [in Toronto, Ontario] before going to school.

6. What were your favourite classes at school?

In school I just couldn’t get enough artwork. I also found the same kind of magic in arithmetic and physics.

7. Did you have a favourite game or sport?

I loved Phys-Ed.  I was on both the swimming team & the tumbling team [gymnastics].  I stayed clear of the bully type sports like football, hockey, boxing etc.

8. Did you have a favourite book?

I can’t recall ever owning a book as a kid.

9. Did you draw or paint as a child?

My means of escape was to make pictures with crayons and pencils, and when I heard the art gallery was giving art lessons I immediately joined the Saturday morning classes [the Art Gallery of Ontario].

10. Did you know any artists when you were a child?

I thought I had died and gone to heaven – the exposure to these art lessons was like stepping into a world of magic – a fantasy world that I alone could create. My favourite teacher was Arthur Lismer – and I knew he was a famous artist and how lucky I was to be associated with a member of The Group of Seven.  I knew then and there that I would spend the rest of my life doing art work.

11. Did you go to art school?

When I got to high school age I decided to go to art school. Some of my favourite teachers were Doris McCarthy and Carl Schaeffer.

12. Who is your favourite artist?

My favourite artists were The Group of Seven, particularly Varley, Tom Thomson and A.Y. Jackson.

13. What is the best thing about being an artist?

The best thing about being an artist is you can create your own vision of the world. And the real reward is when that vision is shared with a wider audience, the viewer.

14. What is the worst thing about being an artist?

The downside is when (like an actor) I didn’t have an audience to communicate with.

15. If you could be anything else in the whole world, what would you be?

I’d probably end-up being a commercial artist, probably doing nasty editorial cartoons because there is a streak of sarcasm in my character. In any case, I’d like to think that I leave the world a little richer because of my effort.