Murray Favro


Where I spent the first 15 yrs Huntsville, Ontario, Canada 1940-1955 Most of Huntsville is on the north side of a hill we called "Reservoir Hill", our house was very near the top of this hill. It was an ideal place to ski. Just go out put on skis and the hill is right there. This hill was so steep ( 40degrees) no cars could get up it in the winter so it was transformed by winter into a ski hill with no traffic except the occasional car with chains attached to the wheels.

It was not a place suitable for road hockey as was the place further down the hill where Roy McGregor lived. So they played road hockey and we skied on our hill. That was Huntsville in the 1940's and early 1950's.

I remember my first day skiing. My new skis were put on me I was only 3 yrs old. I was sent outside to learn how to use them. The older kids must have been at school because I was the only person around. I managed to get down the hill by falling a lot. Going back up wasn't so easy. I kept sliding backwards and was not getting anywhere for the longest time it seemed like hours. Eventually a kid coming home from school told me the secret to getting back up. It was to angle my skis as I walked back up the hill. It worked. It seemed that parents or at least my parents were different than we are they merely supplied the skis and were then ignored, left to fend for our own learning. If I hadn't found out how to get back up that hill myself I'm sure I would still be there today. I eventually liked skiing so much I skied for a few hours every winter day while I living in Huntsville.

Learning to swim was similar a bunch of us kids walked through the "bush" as we called it to "Chub Lake", an isolated small lake 2 miles through the woods past log cabins. It was a lake two miles long and a mile across. No one taught us to swim those that knew how swam and us others stayed near shore where we could touch bottom. At some point one day I learned that the board I was hanging onto was not necessary any more that I actually could swim. The problem was that immediately I decided to swim across the lake. Fortunately I had first learned to swim on my back and that it was a way to rest a bit on my trip across. Soon fatigue set in and swimming became harder and harder even with the relaxing back swimming. Being half way across and totally exhausted it would have been so easy to give up trying to reach the any shore. Of course I continued on because how else could I be writing now. Anyway at least I found out that I don't give up easily and perhaps never.

I was born prematurely on Christmas Eve at home.I have been told that the doctor gave my mother some caster oil causing cramps and my early berth. The doctor did not want his holiday season interrupted. My somewhat insensitive mother told me this many times while I was a kid. Along with the fact that because I was premature I was also the ugliest baby she ever seen. This was quite unlike my older brother who everyone at the time agreed that he was the most beautiful child in existence. Apparently she must have asked them for them to agree.

I was too young to remember if indeed my face was wrinkled up like a prune just like an old mans face. At my present age I actually am getting that wrinkled look. Anyway I learned to ignore opinionated criticism very early. This became useful later with my career as an artist and noise musician.

In Huntsville during the summer with a few friends we would make up dangerous challenges for ourselves. There was a 2-story wooden bleacher building at the community ballpark. One of those unpainted gray wood things I still see in small towns like Park Hill. Anyway between the first and second level there was a ledge, or a sort of ledge about 1 in. in width. Our challenge was to go round the outsides walls on this ledge where there were no handholds but the odd nail or knot hole. If we lost our balance it was only about 10ft to the soft grass covered earth below. We got good at this and decided to take on a better challenge. "Lookout Hill" nearby we already had climbed the steep rock cliff many times. However now our challenge was to pick a steep spot to climb (it would be a different place each time). The idea was to climb straight up and we allowed ourselves to only go about 3 ft to either side of the decided climb strait up. We spent many days that summer climbing the steepest parts of The Lookout and even wanted to try it when winter came. I quit the day we decided to try it with the hill covered in ice.All went well until on one ledge the ice was too much and I realized I was about to slide over a 50ft cliff. I was grabbing at any sticks and branches until one stopped my slide to the edge. That incident was enough to stop the winter rock climbing.

Sometimes I think it is similar to having the nerve and confidence to go on a stage it is only the singer who knows what he will do and this is at the beginning of each number. After this introduction it is a "free for all of sound and noise" where we are required to react instantly to the sounds developed by the group and ourselves. It is an immediate experience and is unpredictable. I like the fact that we will never be able to play the same thing twice. I make a contribution without knowing what I will do next. In a sense I am also a part of the audience listening to what transpires.

Something more structured that happened in Huntsville was my interest in drawing and making art. My drawings of trees in grade one were not those standard stump with sticks attached that people that age do so well. My tree branched out thinner and thinner branch after branch like a real tree. I was soon enrolled in painting classes where I was the only child in a class of adults. Then I was going on trips to Sudbury, Cobalt, Algonquin Park and other places in northern Ontariop doing sketches and paintings, a lot like the Canadian painters called "The Group of 7" had done 50 years before. I was 8 yrs old on my first trip and I remember having trouble sketching water waves because they moved too fast when adults who had no problem freezing them in their vision enough to sketch them. Eventually I got the way of looking at moving stuff and sketching.

These early years were a good influence, making art became hardly a learned thing for me much like the ease of walking is. You don't have to think what is the significance of walking to the store, or first I move muscle number 3 coordinated with other muscles numbered 7to10. This is an exaggerated and absurd example but it shows the advantage of learning early and thus less mechanical. It reminds me of my dad getting his first car when he was 40 years old. He learned to drive well but watching him was unusual he would always be reminding himself things like now I push the clutch, now I put on the brake, now I signal, Time to change the gears, Oh whats that driver doing he is signaling What should I do? Oh good he turned I just about thought I was going to have to put on my brake just after I blow my horn but I didn't. Anyway you get the idea, learn too much later and it's a mechanical process analyzing your every move. I found this happening in art school where people who suddenly decided they were interested in art were learning mechanical procedures. Those of us with earlier interest in it just did the stuff. I had decided to go to Beal Technical School in London Ontario to study art. The best thing about it was to meet other people my age with a similar interest in making art stuff.

Soon after graduating and getting a studio downtown I met an artist Greg Curnoe, also a painter and other people. Within 2 years some of us started The Nihilist Spasm Band (1965). We have been playing regularly ever since.

With my interest in art I found I was gradually moving from painting to sculpture. One of my early sculptured paintings turned into my first guitar used in the band. It was also this guitar that got me my first art exhibition in a Toronto gallery. All the guitars I have made since have ended up in Art Museums. Guitars are not the only sculpture I make. Google my name to see other examples. Some are Projected pieces, like a mechanical wave machine with a film loop of lake waves projected on it. A train engine 40ft long and built in perspective, as well as a reconstruction of a room painted by Van Gogh and a slide of his painting is projected onto these reconstructed objects, Its as if you are able to look at his painting from angles other than the one where he did the painting. You can walk around his painting its made back into a room.

Can't think of anything else for now. Add more things later.

Murray was awarded a Governor General's Award for Visual Arts