RIA Salon 71: Penelope Kokkinos


Recollection of a brief apprenticeship with Nancy Spero and Leon Golub


Wednesday, March 29 – and April 4  2017, 7.30 PM

An artist’s job is to articulate what might otherwise be incoherent. -Nancy Spero

Penelope writes: Throughout the Fall of 1995, while enrolled in the fourth year of BFA apprenticeship program at the University of Ottawa, I had the opportunity to be absorbed into a working team of artists that supported the studio production and promotion of the artwork of Nancy Spero Leon Golub. At that time, Spero and Golub were in their mid to late 70s.

What did I do in the studio?

Nancy and Leon had lived in their studio in NYC since they had returned from France in the late sixties.

The set up of the studio included art production areas for each of them, and an area for packing.  Another area for an office, storage spaces on two levels, a kitchen and bathroom and two bedrooms – that were just the size of a single bed.

They did their business in the daytime and the evening- that was the time that they made their artwork.  Consequently, I was never able to see them when they were producing their artwork.

I worked Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I was one of 2 apprentices that came from universities.  I was amazed to find out that Nancy and Leon, plus other artists in the US, relied very much on apprentices for completing their art production needs.

There were other assistants as well, that were full-time helpers for studio production.  There were other people like accountants and administration assistants, exhibition organizers, cleaning staff, etc. All of these people were local artists, actors, writers, or in some field the arts. Nancy and Leon were very insistent that- they as artists- should support other artists.

I mainly ran errands for them.  After Nancy and Leon give me some cash, I would be sent away to store or to the post office or to the printers.  I was emphatically reminded to always to bring back the item, change and the receipt.

At times, I helped more experienced assistants with building crates and other details involved with the shipping of exhibitions.

My biggest task in the studio, however, was to take lunch orders and purchase lunch for everyone every day.

I was very impressed with the professionalism other university student with whom I  worked.

She was always ready to show someone her artwork.

She always carried with her:

A booklet of slides.

Images on a disk.

A CV and print images in a hardcover book.

She had a website and she was thinking about starting a blog.

She was doing all of this independently, before she had graduated university.

She said that she was always ready to promote her artwork as there was little chance of her getting funding through grants.

And me …I had a couple of slides.

Even though the workdays in the studio might have seemed simplistic in nature, they were always full of activity and interest. Both Nancy and Leon were fairly quiet, unassuming, compassionate individuals.  Nancy was more likely to perk up and give a story that related to her artwork or someone in the art community. She was a feminist and quite passionate about many things.  I thought of her as a mighty collaborator and a non-nationalistic feminist avenger.

Leon was full of undercurrents and at the same time keenly present like a masterful fly on the wall. Every now and again, his face would suddenly a light up with a smile. Then he would exuberantly spill out a funny thought and joke around with us for a while.

Generally speaking, I had little interaction with them even though they were always present in studio and only about 10 feet away.  The assistants were allocated tasks each morning, then we would work independently for the remainder of the day.

Occasionally, I got to play Vanna White on the day when curators or gallery owners were due to arrive at the studio to chat with Nancy and Leon and look at their artwork.

This was a very well choreographed event.

Prior to the visit, Nancy would take me over to the large paper storage cabinet. She would pull out a drawer.  She would say, take these prints out very slowly and show them to the visitors.  Do not let them come over to the drawers to have look at anything- take the prints over to them.  Then she said, if they seem interested in the artwork them all, I will nod my head, and you will open up a second drawer and bring over the prints.

I would greet the visitors and bring them over to chairs and asked if they would like coffee or tea.  Then Nancy would arrive and sit down and chat for a bit.  Then I would open up the first drawer and show them the prints.  At this point, Leon would come by and start to chat and sit down and become a part of the discussion as well.  If I got the nod to bring the contents of the second drawer, that’s when the heavier negotiations would began.  Nancy and Leon would begin playing good cop /bad cop.  During this scenario they would haggle with the gallery owners about dates of exhibitions, creating catalogs, artists fees, promises to purchase, etc., etc. I was asked to leave the area as they finalized their negotiations.

Very exciting. Nevertheless, I was flabbergasted that internationally renowned artists, like Nancy and Leon often took on the expenses of producing, printing and mailing full-color catalogs of their artwork.  They manufactured at least 500 of their current catalogue and we busily packaged and sent them out to galleries and museums around the world. They kindly gave me one has a gift for helping in the studio.

I had a lovely time.  I just soaked in the experience. It seemed so dynamic to be an observer and part of an art community that was engaged in exhibiting compelling artwork in tandem with actioned politics in a way that was acknowledged, reinforced and taken to task by artists as a visible part of the social milieu.


Nancy Spero and Leon Golub were vital, energetic artists. They never lost curiosity in the world, nor their sense of anger at its injustices. They found a way of making artwork which combined the graphic with installation, relevance and timelessness.  Spero and Golub were partners for over half a century… they were unique and unguardedly generous… described as the conscience of the art world.
Adrian Searle
Tuesday 20 October 2009 10.24 EDT

Penelope's Salon Arpil 4 2017

RIA Salon 71 Penelope Kokkinos. Image: Dan Sharp

Penelope's Salon April 4 2017

RIA Salon 71 Penelope Kokkinos. Image: Dan Sharp

Penelope Kokkinos has developed her art practice in a variety of cities across Canada and abroad. Her main areas of intrigue are contemporary ceramics, drawing, installation and sculpture. She has acquired an MFA from Concordia University and a BFA from the University of Ottawa. She is currently employed by the City of Ottawa as an Arts Programmer coordinating support for local artists through the Artist Studio Program, Community Exhibition Spaces and Galleries