Jul 11, 2012

Artist Spotlight - Edward T Novinsky

Into The Murk.  Acrylic.  Edward T. Novinsky
I met Ed on an island some years back. The island was surrounded by river and surrounding the river, spread the great Alaskan tundra. I was working for a sport fishing lodge as a grunt, which entailed transporting supplies, general maintenance and emptying honey buckets. But really, all this was secondary to the real reason that I awoke each morning on a bunk in a tent, pitched somewhere near the edge of the planet. Like most other life forms in the vicinity, I was there because of the fish.

One week, I noticed a different sort of guest on the beach. He was standing there amid a restless crowd of fresh red faces, white hair, loafers, A. D. D. and Gore-Tex. Tall by comparison, he stood looking out over their heads – silent, observing his new home for the week. A braided pony tail fell upon his back. Just the right thickness filled out the edges of his flannel shirt and Levis. I watched him as he tilted his head to the shifting sky and took in a prolonged breath through his nose.

Above the table in our main dining tent hung a watercolor painting of a King Salmon. Intricate in detail, right down to the particular hue on the back of the smallest scale, this radiant rendition celebrated the very fish that moved just outside the tent walls in the river. When walking between the dining area and the kitchen, I would often stop and observe – was I looking for clues as to how the totality of this animal could be so downright stunning? In short, it was the type of painting that one didn’t walk past undeterred. For those who have spent any time with Kings, the painting truly resembled the inherent nature of this particular fish. And, although I was an admirer, I knew nothing of the artist- the man who had signed the painting as Edward T. Novinsky. But that would change upon being introduced to the man in the flannel and the Levis.

ED: Father, Artist, Art Teacher and Angler from Sacramento, California. Turns out, he was on the buddy plan, a friend of the lodge per say, who was not guaranteed a spot in a guide boat every day. If a spot was open, he was welcome, but for the most part his angling opportunities depended on availability. On the other hand, my fishing depended on the speed with which I could complete my daily chores. Once the fuel was pumped, the fish were vacuum- packed, the heaters had oil and propane, the trash was handled, the turds were slung and everything was still working, I was free to ply Alaskan waters with fly rod and fly. We became natural fishing partners, Ed and I. On days when he was landlocked, he would help me with my chores until we could push off the beach and fire up the Yamaha. This particular week would seal our relationship and provide a giant step in my education as an angler and person.

Being what they are, Alaskan sport fishing lodges are rarely free of characters, as it takes a certain type of person to find comfort away from the conveniences of the civilized world. One of my absolute favorite people on the island was a guy named Rich Little, but he was usually referred to as Dickey Dean, Double D or most commonly - Smokey. One only needed to hang around him for a short while to realize the reasoning behind the name. Perhaps the origin is twofold… whether it originated from the fish smoker that he dutifully managed or it puffed out of his cigar, Smokey was continually shrouded in smoke. But then, neither his sharp sense of humor nor his fatherly care went unnoticed in the haze. Old but not finished, Smokey, took life one step at a time and seemed to appreciate every single one he could muster. And he liked to fish, so it is only appropriate that I introduce him, for over the years he would round out the boat; all three wheels spinning harmoniously beneath some rag-tag tricycle of sorts.

King 2.  Watercolor.  Edward T. Novinsky

You can imagine the places we went, Ed, Smokey and I. Into distant braids little more than a boat beam wide; clamoring over beaver thatch homes, sauntering upon gravel bars and along musty smelling, mosquito- infested bear tunnels. I remember one time coming in hot with the sled – sort of a controlled, crash landing if you will – deep in the dense river braid we called “Cambodia”. After coming to rest high on the gravel bar, Smokey calmly announced through a few pronounced smoke rings, “Well, I guess we’re here.”

When the anchor was flung, I only needed to grab my rod and zip off to some little slot or flat, to find some heavy Rainbow that felt like inhaling a skittering mouse or a flittering Sculpin or a formidable slab of decaying salmon flesh that may have ripped loose of a carcass. Looking back, it was always I who was peeling line from my reel as Ed and Smokey still sat in the boat, chatting or seemingly noticing something beyond my recognition.

Now I’m no artist. I can’t even sketch a credible stick figure. So when I get to thinking about art my thoughts may pale in depth or lack some accepted point of view. But nevertheless, it is my right to ponder and share such musings… So when the ambiguous concept of art presents itself, I see it as already existing. Everywhere is art but somehow incomplete – maybe the T is not crossed - until it is interpreted as art by somebody or something. Is it fair to regard an artist as a type of conduit – a channeler if you will? One who takes the ingredients, filters them and spits out some dramatic interpretation that begs your attention. Is art anything, or everything or nothing at all? I suppose the nature of art is nothing more than a personal one. What strikes you strikes you.

As I get older, I think a lot about interpretation. You know, when your senses latch onto something and all of a sudden, before you know it, the seed of meaning has sprouted and it grows into some giant tree, whose branches sway and their leaves shimmy and your own personal understanding exists in the cool, comfortable shade beneath. And so goes my regard to Edward T. Novinsky. Maybe not that he is all interpreting… But rather that he is always available to his surroundings. That his seed is there, always awaiting a ray of sunlight or a drip of water. That his mind sits on fertile ground – ground that is capable of growing anything or simply nothing, if nothing more is needed.

Beginnings.  Watercolor.  Edward T. Novinsky

With Ed, I see a man who is able to connect, someone who chooses to be a part of something rather than being separate. I am reminded of his thoughtful glances and his deliberate pace – one that always moved at just the right speed so as not to miss something. And you know, for so long I missed this component. Sure the three of us would joke and slap each other or laugh together and I would often feel the anxious wiggles of fish. I could find those fish and I could hook those fish and I got very good at doing it rather efficiently. And as the fish swam away, it was time to do it again. So I wasn’t void of the ability to connect, after all, I did so every day with people and I did so with those fish, didn’t I?

But on what level? I must recall my existence on the island. I see it now, how essentially all paths – every step I took eventually led to fish. Whether I was turning a wrench, sweeping a floor or lugging one hundred pounds of propane, most of my tasks were completed with some form of urgency. At times I would stop to notice a glowing sunset, or stare out over the tundra or simply watch a shifting current line along the river bank, but I fear that these moments, too, were not fully recognized. You see, my blood boiled of the perpetual wish to tack fly into mouth. I wanted to cast, to present, to hook. I want I want I want! Sometimes, it takes being with a man like Ed to help ease your pain…

Some years later on a neighboring river, Ed and I stood over an Alaskan Rainbow that lay resting in the palm of Ed’s hand. By this time, I was now guiding and somehow my luck had peaked by drawing Ed as my only client for the day. Moments before, we had both walked to the edge of the gravel bar, to that endearing place where the river begins. We must have talked about our lives, about how crazy it was that cheap whiskey could be so coveted, about how we wished that Smokey could be there with us… And then he probably nodded, looked around slowly and began to strip line from his fly reel. Ever reluctant to move ahead until each moment was spent where it needed to be, he eventually began to cast, sending a wool-headed, olive Sculpin out over the folds of the river. He sent it home.

It always seems appropriate of people to speak of how a fish is nice, or great, or pretty good size or how it is a beauty. But after this one came to hand, the only words from Ed came abruptly and then seemed to hang there, suspended above the soft notes of the river: “Oh my God.”

Have ever you seen every single color of the rainbow and all those between smeared across the gill plate of a trout? Have you? I will not soon forget the image of Ed kneeling there, transfixed – cradling and rotating her glowing flanks to and fro in the mirror of the river. How her gold rimmed eye lay still over her proud spotted lips that moved apart, seemingly mouthing a word… possibly whispering, “Behold.”

If in only my company, would those moments have trickled by the way they did? Would I have been a worthy witness? Could I have slowed down the ticks of time if not for Ed, the conductor? Would that swallow have been there in the willows, watching. Could I have felt the vigorous beats, one by one, bulging in my chest? I know now, that on this day, in his hands, art was born. And I know that if I had the choice to fully revisit this moment once more, I would choose to see it through Ed’s eyes. If only right now, I could recall it through his eyes… for only someone who is available to filter an experience so completely seems able to cultivate such a rich stroke.

Untitled.  Pastel.  Edward T. Novinsky

I have lost considerable touch with these times. But every now and again I have flashes – shooting snap shots through my mind – of orange fillets, spotted lips, scruffy beards, mosquito hum, native tongue, whiskey bottle, river sky. They blink in and out, much like a cursor that waits for more.

Just last week I contacted Ed for the first time in years. Funny how life steals you… but we picked up the scattered pieces ok. I told him that I wanted to write about his art and he replied positively. He is still stroking the canvas, more so than ever. He is a happy artist.

So as not to lose you, I’ll explain what came next. Not surprisingly, I (and a few others) later received a series of emails from Ed. In each of the first four emails was a link to a musical performance. Nothing more – just a link that when clicked, whisked you away to some distant stage in history. And then, the last email I have listed below. Maybe the reason that I have included this passage epitomizes my entire feelings about art and those who create it…

A word of explanation.
I received a note from Mike Duffy the other day. A pleasant surprise. I was painting last night and asked Nell to put on “into the Mystic” by Van the man Morrison in his honor. We couldn’t find the CD so she looked it up on the internet machine. Pam, Nell and I then started to peruse the offerings and got a bit lost in it. So, you are asking yourselves what does this have to do with me? Well, it turned into looking for people covering other people's songs as per Joe Cocker covering everybody and singing “into the Mystic” and then people playing with other people they normally don’t play with and covering other peoples songs.. Following the logic yet? No? Well the songs sent to you were supposed to be a progression and the punch line to it all ended up not be sent for some reason. A long set up for no pay off so here is the song I wanted sent last. Weird, but somehow strangely great. Look at the expressions as they gaze at Tom doing his thing. Priceless, or at least I thought so last night.

And there it was.  It all washed together in a wave of refreshing peculiarity. Chuckling, I lost myself in the river of his creation...

Originally, I thought I would talk about the extraordinary nature of his art – like his style and his sharp ability to invoke emotion through his craft and so on. And I would mention how his pieces flavor the walls of reputable galleries and noteworthy collectors. But I don’t think I will. That part I leave to you.

Please visit Ed's website for a full look at his work: edwardnovinsky.com
Or email Ed:  ed@edwardnovinsky.com

Ed.  Sending her home

Have a good time,


  1. I'm no artist,and not even,most of the time,a good reader,but that portrayal brought me to tears. Thank you for writing it.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I have only scratched the surface in regards to Ed. I think sometimes the words are washed away by feeling. to this day, Ed still makes the trip up to this magical river where he is welcomed by staff that feel the same as I. About the man and about his work. and many of his pieces hanging around the lodge - their very birthplace

  3. Fantastic story! Although I have not met Ed, I remember Smokey quite well.. Being able to fish with both of these guys together was a memorable experience indeed!

  4. That painting of the fishes eye is incredible are copies available.

  5. I hear you! Check out Ed's site: http://edwardnovinsky.com/
    He has many prints available, but you'll just have to ask him about this particular painting. Or shoot him an email: ed@edwardnovinsky.com

  6. Great article, and superb writing.-----Keep um coming!-----Beatle

  7. Thank you Beatle. and thanks for tuning in

  8. Thank you "Duffy" for the perfect article on Ed. And thanks Andrew for offering Ed's work for sale. Duffy, your article brought back many memories to me. You see, I am the one who first invited Ed to visit Alaska West. I was working a sports show in Sacramento, CA and noticed a man walking down the isle with a painting of a King Salmon under his arm. It is the same picture you refer to hanging on the wall of the tent. There was something "different" about the painting from any other of a King I had ever seen? I left my booth and caught up to Ed and introduced myself. I explained that I had never seen a painting that truly depicted a King Salmon in such a natural state (with some pre-spawning color) I am the lucky owner of the original "Kanektok Rainbow" and several other original pieces of Ed's work. I display all with pride. Now it's my turn to contact Ed, it has been way to many years between a personal conversation as well as well.

  9. Dale - great story, thanks for sharing! i remember those days when the float plane would touch down in front of ZOO. one time in particular... something shattered inside of your bag - much to the crew's chagrin! remember that? i hope you are well and still fishing all over creation! -duffy


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