Take the ‘A’ Train: An interview with Max Gimblett

Peter Vangioni: It’s late June, and you haven’t been outside for 16 weeks? Is that right? How are you and Barbara coping with the shelter in place order and are you able to work under these conditions?

Max Gimblett: Well, I’ve been out to put the garbage out twice a week—I cross the pavement and come back to the door. Some people are out there walking with their masks. Barbara is super cautious, you know because of our age, we can’t even come close to anybody. But we are doing very well in this lockdown, and have no plans to leave the loft.

Barbara was recently awarded the Dan David Prize, a high honour and is working flat-out internationally, on Skype, Zoom and the phone... She is of course, the Ronald Lauder Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw.

I am attempting to complete my approximately 330 unique artist’s books. I’ve been making them since 1963. There are some I’ve worked in for fifty plus years and they are astonishing. Travel journals, sketchbooks, journals, artist’s books made in collaboration with amazing poets and writers, other painters... These books are made up of ink drawings, collages, gilding with precious metals, and stampings and have been bound by four different bookbinders over the years. They will find a home together as the Max Gimblett Artist’s Books Archive. They are a part of my legacy.

PV: Let’s start at the beginning Max – simply put, how did you become an artist? Did you always know you would be one and was there anyone who encouraged you? 

In 1962 I was in Toronto and was taken to a Ukrainian potter’s workshop; Roman Bartkiw, the potter, looked at me and said he needed an apprentice. I asked him what the deal was, he said I would work for him five or six days a week, eight hours a day, I would not get paid anything and after my first year he would let me make some pots of my own. I instantly said “I’m your man!” Two years later Barbara named me an artist when she came home from the University of Toronto one day and found me staring at a red Conté crayon drawing of myself I had done looking in a mirror, Barbara said you are a painter, and I said “Yes, I am”. That drawing which is one of my finest, is now in the Christchurch Art Gallery collection.