Harvey Kurek Ovshinsky:: Some anniversaries are more difficult than others

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Some anniversaries are more complex than others.

Twenty-seven years ago today, my friend and teacher, Michigan painter, sculptor, and art educator Arthur Schneider lost his brave battle with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs resulting from his years of exposure to the toxic chemicals and materials in his studio.

But here’s the thing: even with his diagnosis, Arthur was one of the most spirited and exuberant artists I have ever known. Unlike me, who, at the time, struggled with whether to continue directing documentaries, essentially earning a living asking people questions, the dark, deeply personal, the below-the-surface kind so necessary to get to the truth of their stories. Even though it meant, more often than not, my having to pick away fresh wounds and, ever so gently, peel away skin and rip their scabs off.

All for a good cause, I convinced myself.

What a pair we two were! Arthur embraced every minute of his creative journey; he couldn’t wait to get up each morning so he could step into what he called “his light” on his way to ask the questions that were so critical to getting to the heart of every one of his magnificent paintings and sculptures.

“Children come to the world with a thousand questions,” he tried to explain to my whiney, deaf ears. “You walk as a child and say, what is this? What is that? I did this to produce a flower. I went up to the flower, and I kept asking the flower questions. How many petals do you have? How do you grow? What is your architecture? And I think that is part of the art process. I could have spent the day asking questions!”

“Are you going to miss the questions, Arthur?” I asked him on our last day of shooting OFF THE WALL: A CREATIVE JOURNEY, a WTVS/ PBS documentary about his life and work. “Oh, Harvey,” he sobbed, a sudden cascade of tears flowing down his cheeks. “I weep. I weep. It’s the one thing that bothers me. I won’t be here to ask the questions. You got to me, buddy.

“That’s a great sadness; that’s the end.”

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