I was born in Estonia in 1930. My parents were divorced when I was two years old. Because of the Great Depression, which ravaged the entire world, my mother, a trained artist, had to take a job as the supervisor of a small orphanage in Tallinn. For much of the time I could stay with her. And these were the good times. But often, and particularly for entire summers at a time, I was sent alone to other orphanages in the countryside. I did not like it, but nobody asked my opinion. Most of the memories of my childhood stem from these periods. They are not happy memories.
The rootless life in an orphanage surely prepares a child for solitude. A child from an orphanage learns early to depend on herself, to deal alone with her miseries, to provide her own entertainment and counsel, to ask her own questions and to furnish her own answers. The child from an orphanage also learns to look into herself to find the meaning of existence, the way it appears to her.
Now, looking back at my insecure and precarious childhood, I regard the experience it provided as absolutely essential for my formation as an artist. In my world one spends countless hours very much alone, dealing with one’s emotions and intellect.
I must admit I like being alone. I enjoy it. I have never known boredom, not as an adult, and not even as a child in the orphanage.
The turmoil of the Second World War sent me and my mother to Germany. We were refugees. After the war ended, the refugees were gathered together into camps set up by the American army. Our refugee camp was located in the beautiful hills of Württemberg, in the village of Geislingen an der Steige. There, in the school of the refugee camp, at the age of 14, I met the young man with whom I later came to share life.
I often feel that this was the moment when my life began, the time of actual birth for me: the moment when I met Endel. He was a very special kind of person even then. For a young man he was very sure of himself, and he wanted me to be like him. He encouraged me to think independently, not to be afraid of public opinion, and to express myself. He showed me how to take knocks along with the glory of life. Above all he taught me something that no one else had—to trust myself.
Later, in Canada, when we were already married, he encouraged me to enroll as a student at the art college, and to train for a career as a professional artist. His only wish at that time was that I not become a bohemian. I found that very amusing, because I had never had any leanings towards that carefree style of life. Now, looking back over a long stretch of artistic existence, and knowing something about art and a bit more about artists, the way they are and how they behave, I have come to a conclusion that a successful artist is never a bohemian. A successful artist, by definition, must be a highly organized thinker and a disciplined worker; he usually leads a rather traditional type of life. To be a bohemian is a luxury that only the art students, or those who have remained perpetual students, can afford. A special pleasure for me is to be able to walk in the street and have no one guess that I am a painter; it enshrouds me in a kind of anonymity that I rather enjoy.
My art training at the school was academic. Ontario College of Art at the time dedicated about 90% of students’ class time to painting and drawing the figure, to understand the figure and to render it rather traditionally.
The art school also provided abstract art training. I found it fascinating. It was a world in itself. It demanded so much more of the artist, much more thought and such thorough involvement. It took me several years before I could produce something that was believable in the abstract genre.
After graduation from the OntarioCollege of Art in 1962, I spent an academic year in Paris studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There I started working at a group of collages depicting mainly the human figure. This group of paintings was exhibited as my very first one-man show in January 1964 at the Douglas Duncan Picture Loan Gallery in Toronto.
The years following that exhibition brought me much, much work and studies at the CaliforniaCollege of Art, more exhibitions in Canada; also teaching duties at the Ontario College of Art where I was employed for seven years teaching painting and printmaking, as well as history and techniques of printmaking and figure drawing, among other subjects.
Later there were more individual exhibitions in various cities of the world like New York, London, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki.