Saturday, October 23, 2010

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG: Update on The Exquisite Object

The Exquisite Object (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
In my September 30th post, I wrote about The Exquisite Object, an unsigned, undated piece of Ivaan's work that I had found among his archives. At the end of that post, I expressed a hope that one day I would know more about it.

That was three weeks ago.  A lot has happened since then.  One of the most important (and still secret) things that has occurred requires me to organize Ivaan's photographs.  This is no small undertaking.  By 2006, Ivaan had amassed a collection of over 700 film cameras.    They were mostly classic cameras from the 1940s onwards, but a few dozen were the old "folders" that dated back to the beginning of the 20th century. We  kept them in a warehouse building two doors away from our house on Portland Street, along with the additional lenses, flashes, tripods, bins of film in odd sizes, camera cases and assorted paraphernalia that goes along with a camera collection of this size.

Ivaan didn't just collect cameras; he used them.  For many years, he shot a roll of film a day.  His photography fell into three different categories:  he photographed his metal art and jewellery, he documented the street life
around him, and he chronicled people's lives - not necessarily people he knew, but people who caught his imagination somehow.  Ivaan's filing system was quirky in the extreme.  He had his film processed, but didn't necessarily make prints.  Instead of identifying the sheet of negatives with a useful description, it was more often "Mamiya 3, f5.6 at 30, Tri-X Pan, clouds".  It worked for him, because he was more likely to remember what camera he was wearing than the date he took the photo or the name of the person in the photos.

All that to say, it's been a long week sorting photographs.  My reward, however, has been the discovery of a photograph of the original wax carving of The Exquisite Object.   Ivaan has photographed it against a background of open rubber jewellery moulds, which enables me to date The Exquisite Object with some precision.  It's either 1979 or 1980, because the rubber moulds are part of his original Tutankhamun collection for the  Art Gallery of Ontario.  This is a real revelation, because I'd always assumed The Exquisite Object was made much later.  He used different colours of wax, so the detail really stands out in the photograph.
The Exquisite Object, circa 1979.   (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

My next wish is to understand the context for the creation of this object:  was it a commission?  Was it inspired by something he'd seen somewhere?  Is there more than one version?  The finished version above is not identical to the wax original.  Note how the protrusions at seven and nine o'clock on the finished product appear on the wax (at eleven and one o'clock in the photo directly above) as dark lines.  It's as though the piece evolved over time.

In future posts, I'll feature some pictures of the cast of characters Ivaan photographed over the years.
I'll also explain why I'm organizing all his photographs - once it's no longer a secret.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In late 2008, Ivaan was very eager to undergo the ELANA By-Pass, a pioneering neurosurgical procedure that would reroute the blood flow through his brain while the surgeons grafted on a by-pass blood vessel to circumvent the damaged artery that was causing his strokes.  He was excited about being the first person in Canada to undergo this procedure.   In spite of the enormous risk of his not surviving the surgery, he felt that volunteering for this procedure would greatly advance medical knowledge and pave the way for better outcomes for future patients.  While we both hoped that a successful outcome would mean an improvement in his own dire condition, we knew the chances were slim.  "Plan B" for Ivaan was that he was determined to become an organ and tissue donor should he not survive the surgery, and dying in hospital provided the best chance of achieving that goal.

Ivaan underwent the surgery on December 2nd, 2008, and although the surgery itself was a complete succsss, Ivaan suffered a massive stroke on the operating table, never regained consciousness and died a few days later.

Shortly after his death, I received a letter from the Eye Bank of Canada, telling me about two successful surgeries that had taken place.  Ivaan's eyes had been harvested after his death, and both of his corneas were transplanted, one each into the eyes of two people who had previously been blind.  Those surgeries were successful, and both recipients were able to see as a result. Ivaan would have been thrilled.

I've been a volunteer with Trillium Gift of Life Network, the organ and tissue donation people, for many years.  Recently, they wrote to me to ask if I would agree to be photographed for their 2011 calendar.  This calendar honours the medical professionals who make the connection between the families of potential donors and TGLN, thereby facilitating organ and tissue harvesting and transplantation.

So here I am, about to become a Calendar Girl!  This must be the midlife crisis I've been waiting for.  My only regret is that apparently I'm expected to be fully clothed for the photo shoot.  (I guess Photoshop can only do so much!) Ivaan's niece, Anna, has suggested I greet the camera crew draped only in a sheet, with a rose between my teeth.   It's very tempting.  It would give new meaning to the term, Hot Flash.

Ivaan, I'm sure, will be extremely gratified by this tribute to his Gift of Life.  If you see a 2011 TGLN calendar anywhere, please pick it up and have a peek. I'm hoping to be Miss October.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

EAT YOUR HEART OUT: Anita's Tiny Perfect Bracelets

Anita worked in the art department of an advertising agency in the mid-1980s when she was first introduced to Ivaan by mutual friends who thought she'd be interested in seeing his work.  She later said that finding his work was like finding a piece of herself, so powerful was her connection to his art.

Now and again, Ivaan would drop by the ad agency with his latest creations all jumbled up in a plastic shopping bag, and just tip the contents of the bag onto her desk.

Anita was particularly in love with bracelets; she commissioned three magnificent specimens, each a "one-off", meaning no mould would be made of them.  Anita has incredibly slender wrists, so these bracelets are tiny.

Much has changed in Anita's life since the 1980s:  after her daughter was born, she moved out of the highly stressful world of advertising and started a home-based business, Anita's Kitchen, where she makes cookies.  What hasn't changed is her love of Ivaan's work.  She drops round every so often to look at the treasures I've discovered among Ivaan's vintage moulds.  I think she secretly misses the days when Ivaan would drop by her office unannounced and empty a plastic bag full of gorgeous stuff on her desk.

Anyway,  here are Anita's bracelets.   Later on I'll post a photo of Anita's new ring.  (Later on, meaning, when I finish it.)  It's a beauty.

OCTOBER 9th: A Beautiful Day On Which To Be Born

It was really warm and sunny at the cemetery today, but you could already smell the first hint of decaying leaves wafting on the breeze, heralding the end of the season.  I planted a few new things, swept up a bit, fed the birds and squirrels, spread out a blanket,  re-read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, listened to some of Ivaan's favourite music (Handel, Beethoven, Gorecki), sang O Sole Mio (Di Capua) and I Will (Lennon/McCartney), ate an apple, smoked a liquorice cigar or two.  It's always sad having to leave, especially knowing a long, cold winter lies ahead. Better get all my visits in while I can. Happy Birthday, Ivaan.

Friday, October 8, 2010

IVAAN'S BIRD'S NEST RING: A Vintage Treasure

Tomorrow (October 9th) is Ivaan's 66th birthday.  In honour of his birthday, I thought I'd show you the latest vintage treasure I've unearthed from his collection of moulds.  Doesn't it remind you of a bird's nest full of eggs?  I made it in sterling silver, but I toned these photographs so it looks like gold, which is probably what he made the original in.

   It doesn't fit me, naturally - too small - but I absolutely love just being able to look at it.

   My next post will be about three excellent bracelets.  Please don't read it or look at the photos if you are a fool for bracelets, because it will only break your heart.  They are all one-offs and in the late 1980s they were made for Anita, who has the tiniest wrists you can imagine.

   Happy Birthday, Ivaan.  Wish you were here.  xxx

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


After Lowon Pope outgrew their shared location at 692 Queen Street West and moved across the street, Ivaan's friend Tamas Mozer moved in.  No two guys were more dissimilar in terms of style. Ivaan was upbeat and gregarious; Tamas was quiet and serious. Ivaan was entirely self-taught in metal arts; Tamas was a classically-trained jeweller.   Ivaan was disorganized; Tamas was meticulous.  Sometimes it seemed as though Tamas were fighting a losing battle against utter chaos.  One thing they had in common was a dislike of being interrupted by someone coming in to order something when they were busy working.  However, if someone wanted to come in for a chat,  or to drag them out for a coffee or a pizza, well, that was another matter.  692 Queen Street West was almost like a social club.  Ivaan used to claim that there was a secret tunnel  under Queen Street, connecting their store to Dufflet's Pastry Shop, and that it had been carved out with a dessert fork.
In 2001, someone came by and offered to do a watercolour sketch of their store.  Today I found the sketch in Ivaan's journal.   It's not overly realistic - the actual shop wasn't so pretty looking and Ivaan's side of the window was rarely that neat, but the artist captured some of the uniqueness of Ivaan Fine Metal and Platinum Plus. Siobhan, this post is for you.  I hope it brings back some fond memories.

DANIEL P. IZZARD: Timing Is Everything


I often wonder how many of the decisions we make are based on reason, how many are based on emotion, and how many are the result of listening to that little voice that exists just below our consciousness.  I've often told the story of the first time I saw the paintings of Ivaan's friend and fellow artist, Danny Izzard.   In his younger days, Danny was an award-winning art director in the film and commercial industry, but his true passion was painting.  He came by his vocation honestly:  his father, the late Daniel J. Izzard, was a renowned landscape artist.  In the mid-1990s, Danny left the film industry and devoted himself to painting full time.  In about 1998, Ivaan and I attended the opening of a solo exhibition of Danny's paintings at a gallery on Parliament Street.

We walked into the gallery.  I glanced at the paintings on the walls and I was seized with one of the Seven Deadly Sins:  covetousness.  I wanted some of those paintings so badly, it hurt.   It must have shown on my face, because within a few months, Ivaan suggested we buy a Daniel Izzard painting.  We bought one of his Venice series, and spent our next vacation scouring Venice (in vain) for the exact location of our painting.  

When we returned, we decided to buy another painting.  This time we chose a massive canvas painted in Corsica, entitled Soupe de Poisson for Dinner (see above).  Ten years later, it still takes my breath away.    

In August 2002, that little voice that speaks neither with reason nor with emotion whispered to me that I should ask Danny to paint a portrait of Ivaan.  Bless his heart, Danny said he'd love to, and the topmost painting (above) is the result.   We unveiled it at a fabulous party in honour of Ivaan's birthday in October that year.  Two months later, Ivaan suffered a debilitating stroke, the second in a series of five.   He was still the gorgeous guy in the painting, but he was never again able to cross his arms like this.  Every time I look at this painting, I am reminded that indeed, timing is everything.

Over the years, we collected eight paintings of Danny's, and often joked that we should name our house Gallery Izzard.  My latest acquisition, Lemon Festival (above, centre) was a Valentine's Day present to myself three months after Ivaan's death.  I like to think it's a Valentine's gift from Ivaan, because if he'd lived to see the painting, he'd surely have fallen in love with it too.

If you've ever wanted to give someone (or yourself) a really special gift, I can tell you without hesitation that a portrait of someone you love is a brilliant idea.   But timing is everything.  I am so glad I listened to that little voice in my head.    Thank  you, Danny.

If you want to see more of Danny's work, visit his website at or the gallery that carries his work, Harbour Gallery, down on the Lakeshore in Mississauga.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



These are Ivaan's jeans, circa 1969.  Ivaan sewed on each of the patches by hand.  His needlework is remarkably fine.  They are hemmed in baby blue crushed velvet.

These jeans became the symbol of a remarkable 40-year retrospective of Ivaan's life in metal arts, entitled:  All That Matters:  The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky in Retrospect, which opened at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada (Ontario Branch) on January 23, 2009 and closed on October 31st of the same year.

The co-curators, Sonia Holiad and Daria Diakowsky, created an inspired exhibition in the gallery space at St. Vladimir Institute on Spadina Avenue in Toronto.  Work began on this very comprehensive exhibition in August of 2008, and it is fortunate that Ivaan lived to play an active part in providing the curators with historical information about his work.  Although he died about six weeks before the retrospective opened, his presence was very much felt by the Museum staff, our family, the curators, our friends and members of the public who attended the Museum.

Three receptions were held while the retrospective was in place:  the first was the opening on January 23rd, the second occurred in March, and the final reception was in honour of Ivaan's 65th birthday, on October 9th.

Ivaan's beloved blue jeans were hung on a door as part of the exhibition, in an area where a mock-up of his work table was set up, with some of the tools of his trade, plus his trademark red leather shoes under the table,  and one of his silk shirts with silver buttons handmade by Ivaan, draped over the back of his chair.  It looked exactly as though he'd just gotten up from his work table.  The display included a half-eaten butter tart - art imitating life.  People who attended the exhibition spontaneously started signing their names and writing their phone numbers on the door, in memory of Ivaan's habit of making notes of names and numbers on the wall by his telephone.  The door, absolutely covered with signatures, messages and phone numbers,  with his jeans still hanging from the hook, is now on display in our home.

I am so lucky that our friends Stefan Genyk-Berezowsky, Igor Korpan and Franko Diakowsky were kind enough to take video footage and extensive photographic coverage of this outstanding exhibition.  One of my greatest pleasures is to look at the photos, watch the film footage, and be reminded of this memorable occasion.   My gratitude to everyone who created, recorded, assisted with and attended this exhibition knows no bounds.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


One of the best features of their home on Wyatt Avenue, from Ivaan's point of view, was its proximity to the Don River and to the industrial lands and abandoned factories which were the source of many of his most memorable stories.

On weekends, one of Ivaan's favourite activities was to sneak into the abandoned factory buildings, just to see what was inside them.  Sometimes the properties were patrolled by security staff.  Just as often, they were unguarded.  Ivaan must have been about ten years old one Saturday when he and a friend took the friend's wagon and found a way into one of these abandoned factories.  It was clearly a building that had at one time been used for the manufacture of ammunition for the war effort.  Inside the building, Ivaan and his friend found an empty shell casing.  It must have been quite large, because it was with some difficulty that they got it over the fence, loaded it into the wagon and headed for home.  They had just left the property when a policeman on patrol stopped them and made them return this piece of ammunition to the factory. The boys did as they were told, but as soon as the policeman continued on his rounds, they climbed the fence once more, put the shell casing back into the wagon, covering it with an old newspaper.  Hurrying to climb back over, anxious lest the officer should return, Ivaan got his shoe stuck in the fence and had to abandon it.  He was obliged to return after dusk to retrieve it.

The boys took the shell casing back to Ivaan's home, where Ivaan took it down to the basement and filled it with soot from the furnace.  Next day, after the family returned from church, Ivaan took his sister Nadia's kerchief, carried the shell upstairs, and climbed out the window onto the roof.  Once on the roof, he tied Nadia's kerchief to the shell casing.

Meanwhile, down below, every child on Wyatt Avenue had gathered in a semicircle on the pavement, looking up at Ivaan and his bomb on the roof.  All the children were wearing their Sunday best. Most were eating popsicles.  Ivaan manoeuvred his home-made bomb to the edge of the roof and let it drop, expecting that the kerchief would act as a parachute, and that his bomb would descend slowly and gracefully and land on the street in the middle of the semicircle of children.    As one might predict, the bomb fell rather more quickly than he, or his audience, anticipated.  It hit the ground and broke apart, spewing clouds of soot.  When the dust settled, Ivaan saw only a semicircle of dropped popsicles; his audience, their clothes blackened by the soot, had headed for home running.

Recalling the failed experiment many years later, Ivaan said ruefully, "Every kid on the street got a beating that day, not just me."

Friday, October 1, 2010


Several years ago, Ivaan and I became acquainted with two young people, Erin and Alex, who were filmmakers, and partners with our longtime friend Iain Robinson in Endless Films.    As we got to know them better, Ivaan became quite fond of them, and in his quiet way mentioned to me that he hoped they would one day get married.   

Three years ago, we became next-door neighbours to Erin and Alex, as our condo building was right beside the building where Endless Films was located.  We'd see them out and about in the neighbourhood, and I could see exactly what Ivaan meant:  it was one of those relationships where each seemed to be visibly enhanced by the presence of the other.

One day, Ivaan said: "Please email Iain Robinson for me.   Ask him to tell Alex that if he proposes to Erin, I'll offer them their choice of wedding rings."   Iain's response was polite but firm:  "No way", he said.  "I have to work with these people.  I'd like to see them married too, and if it happens, great, but I'm not interfering in their private lives."   Wise words.

Ivaan was not deterred....much.  We talked about it before his death, and he left me with a to-do list.  This was one of the items on the list.  Shortly after his death, Alex and Erin attended a 40-year retrospective of Ivaan's art...and lo and behold, Erin was sporting an engagement ring.    I told her and Alex the story about Ivaan's determination to see them married.  They accepted his offer of wedding rings with enthusiasm, were married on September 3rd, 2010, and kindly invited me to their wedding.  Unfortunately, due to a family commitment, I was unable to attend, but heard afterwards that Alex made a heartfelt tribute to Ivaan during his speech.  Ivaan would have been extremely gratified to see his wish fulfilled.  

Today I received this card (above) from the happy newlyweds.  (Good work, Ivaan.)