I have to confess something before I write anything about Anything but a Still Life: The Art and Lives of Molly Lamb and Bruno Bobak by Nathan M. Greenfield: I, a born-and-bred New Brunswicker, a person who took art in New Brunswick public schools from kindergarten to grade 12 (indicating a certain amount of interest), am fairly certain I’d never heard of Molly and Bruno (as Greenfield calls them in his book; Molly became Molly Lamb Bobak when they married, so to avoid confusion, I will follow suit) until picking up this book. This is a shame, because they had long and fascinating careers, lived in New Brunswick, were working artists in my lifetime, and Molly illustrated Toes in My Nose by the great Sheree Fitch! How did I not know about them?
This is answered at the very end of Greenfield’s book: despite their careers with significant length, their popularity, and many works, neither artist has been honoured with significant retrospectives in any of the major museums in Canada since their deaths, nor were they particularly celebrated in life by critics and those interested in the art scene in Canada. Greenfield notes they were often glossed over in major publications about Canadian art, or left out altogether. Working to balance that lack of coverage, Greenfield has written a comprehensive, detailed study of the art made by Molly and Bruno, and has centred it in the wider context of their lives. For someone who was introduced to them for the first time, this was a thorough dive into their work over the decades, tracing the evolution of their crafts, their different preoccupations and phases in their work, and the outside factors which influenced the pieces they created.
Starting with how both Molly and Bruno came to be – their parents, their childhoods, the first glimmer of interest in art, and later, the pursuit of art as a career, through the military, Greenfield begins his study in earnest with their work in the military. Not only were Molly and Bruno great civilian artists, but their stories as working artists and as a couple began as war artists for Canada in World War II. Molly was the first official female war artist in Canada, and Bruno was the youngest war artist in Canada.
Without a doubt, this is a dense biography of both artists. Greenfield’s sources include Molly’s diaries, which mean that while the book is full of details about their lives, their story was often filtered through the writings Molly left behind. Their marriage was full of strife, neglect, and abuse, as Greenfield is careful to detail when discussing how their relationship influenced their art. But above all, this is not a lurid look at their marriage behind their careers as artists. It is a scholarly examination of their art and their lives that shaped the work produced. Certainly, this is not written for those who aren’t willing to work through an academic look at Molly Lamb and Bruno Bobak. But for those willing, this is a rich and detailed work about two New Brunswick artists and ones who deserve to be remembered for their excellent bodies of work. Greenfield has put the deserved spotlight on these artists.
Nathan M. Greenfield is the author of eight books, including The Damned: The Canadians at the Battle of Hong Kong and the POW Experience, 1941-45, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, Greenfield’s articles have also appeared in the Walrus, Canada’s History, the Globe and Mail, and Maclean’s.
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (March 30 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 392 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773100920
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773100920
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Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.