New Brunswick

Saint John artist Herzl Kashetsky is still perfecting his craft

A 50th Anniversary Exhibition of Joe and Herzl Kashetsky will run at Fredericton Gallery 78 until Sept. 24.

50th anniversary exhibition celebrates lifetime of work — and a brotherly bond even death can't break

Kashetsky at his Canterbury Street studio. His upcoming show, a 50th Anniversary Exhibition of Joe and Herzl Kashetsky, is running at Gallery 78 in Fredericton until Sept. 24. An opening reception will be held Sept. 9. (julia Wright/ CBC)

The past and the present are always in dialogue, according to Saint John painter Herzl Kashetsky. 

The walls of his Canterbury Street studio are layered with years of pictures, paintings, magazine clippings.

A seven-foot orange tree — which Kashetsky planted from a seed 40 years ago — scatters the afternoon light from the street.

Plaster cherubs, salvaged from the renovation of the Imperial Theatre, preside over a bronze plaque that reads "INNER SANCTUM."

WATCH | See the artwork that is part of 'bittersweet' anniversary show

Saint John artist Herzl Kashetsky celebrates lifetime of work

24 days ago
Duration 3:13
A 50th Anniversary exhibition of Herzl Kashetsky and his late brother Joe runs at Gallery 78 until Sept. 24

Kashetsky's father and uncle were both antique dealers. Growing up in Saint John in the 1950s, he and his five brothers and sisters were "exposed to a lot of esthetics: furniture, glassware, china, paintings as a child. It gave me an appreciation of craftsmanship, and older things."

Joseph Kashetsky was Herzl's older brother, an abstract artist who showed such promise by the age of 25 that in 1965, he was profiled in the Atlantic Advocate alongside the likes of Jack Humphrey, Fred Ross and Miller Brittain.

'It's very crowded. There's a bit of everything in here,' Kashetky says of his studio. 'What makes a work of art good, I think, is something has to come from you, and be put into the artwork. Otherwise, it's just an illustration.' (Julia Wright/CBC)

In 1972, he and Herzl mounted their first show together: a joint exhibition at the Arts Centre at UNB, where Bruno Bobak was the director.

The brothers' first exhibition together, tragically, was their last. 

Two years later, Joe died from a heart attack.

"That ran in the family," Herzl said. "I've had three heart attacks. My father died of a heart attack at 61 years old. Joe had complained and complained about symptoms of a heart attack. They sent him home."

Joe was 33.

Joseph Kashetsky, bottom left, featured in a 1965 Atlantic Advocate article alongside iconic New Brunswick artists Jack Humphrey, Fred Ross, and Miller Brittain. (Julia Wright/CBC)

His death "really made me feel that I had to continue in his footsteps," said Herzl, now 72. "He inspired me so much, and now he's not able to do it."

Herzl's journey as an artist has been a successful one, by any measure. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick in 1992, a Strathbutler Award for Excellence in Visual Arts from the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation in 2011, and a Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. 

Joseph Kashetsky, pictured in 1962. He died 12 years later of a heart attack at age 33. (Submitted by Herzl Kashetsky )

But he still feels there's something missing. 

Looking at Joe's work, he feels the "mystery of not really knowing Joe."

"And we'll never get to know him now that he's gone. We'll never know, really, what he was saying in these works."

Herzl has carefully preserved his brother's sketches and paintings — a body of work that includes enigmatic figures with haunted eyes, architectural sketches, a series of circles, drawn with a technical pen, that "would take nerves of steel and the patience of Job to do," in Herzl's words. 

The inner sanctum: Kashetsky's Canterbury Street studio, the interior of which is often the subject of his paintings. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Two dozen of Joe's works, and "21 or 22' of Herzl's, are being presented at Fredericton Gallery 78 until Sept. 24, in a show called A 50th Anniversary Exhibition of Joe and Herzl Kashetsky. 

One of the pieces from Large Circle Series, by Joseph Kashetky: The work was 'done with a ruler and a technical pen, and there's hundreds and hundreds of lines,' Herzl said. 'At any time you could get an ink blob and ruin the whole thing. It just shows the patience he had to to work on these.' (Submitted by Herzl Kashetsky)

"The work that he did in the 14 years that he created — the strength of that work, the legacy he's left behind. Just imagine if he added another 48 years, if he was alive today. He'd be 81 if he continued working. What a loss."

"On the other hand, it's exciting to have that anniversary show again and celebrate that time. And I've been painting, fortunately now for the last 50 years. There will be 24 works of Joe's in the show and 21 or 22 works of mine."

One of Herzl's standout works in the upcoming show is the oil painting Ascension, which depicts a silhouetted figure climbing a ladder out of a warm, salmon-coloured light, into somewhere else that can't be seen. 

Joe Kashetsky: Untitled Watercolour #4 (Submitted by Herzl Kashetsky )

"The future is the unknown," Herzl said. "That's the darkness that the figure is moving into. The unknown is tomorrow, it's next month, it's next year. And that's the story of everyone's lives. We are all taking this journey through life into the unknown."

The other works are a cross-section of the themes he has explored over the years: beach stones, 1970s woodcuts, drawings of the interior of his studio, and Herzl's so-called "calligraphic drawings," portraits constructed out of his own handwriting.

All of the works, he says, contain fragments of himself. 

Ascension (oil/board 40x30). 'The unknown is tomorrow, it's next month, it's next year,' Kashetsky said. 'And that's the story of everyone's lives. We were all taking this journey through life into the unknown.' (Submitted by Herzl Kashetsky )

"If something of you isn't flowing from you into the brush, into the painting, it's lacking. That's an important part of creating a work that has impact and a lasting presence."

Artist's Profile (India Ink /Stonhenge rag 18x15), a 'calligraphic self-portait' by Herzl Kashetsky. 'It's a profile of me through the writing, because if you read the writing, it gives you an idea of the thoughts that were on my mind, my humour, and my seriousness. Both are in there.' (Submitted by Herzl Kashetsky )

The show in Fredericton, he said, isn't a career retrospective. Rather, it's a celebration — both of of Joe's lasting legacy  and the many projects and themes Herzl has yet to tackle. The only obstacle is one we all have to contend with. 

"You never have enough time," he said. 

Two Kashetsky self-portraits, painted 30 years apart in 1974 and 2004. (Julia Wright/ CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is the host of Information Morning Saint John on CBC Radio 1. She previously worked as a digital reporter focused on stories from southwestern New Brunswick. She has a masters degree in English from McGill University, and has been with the CBC since 2016. You can reach her at julia.wright@cbc.ca.

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