Jeffrey Rubinoff

Jeffrey Rubinoff
Jeffrey Rubinoff explains one of his sculptures on Hornby Island (Photo: Michelle Tarnopolsky)

In the shadow of giants

In the shadow of Mt. Geoffrey, a ridge on Hornby Island formed millions of years ago, Jeffrey Rubinoff strides among strong steel works that appear to dance across the landscape. He stops at each one to explain its form and significance, identifying its place within a series, and each series’ place within his life’s work. He talks not only about the siting of the piece on his acreage on an island in the Salish Sea—how it might echo, or even act as a counterpoint to its surroundings—but also about that sculpture’s place in the expanded field of the history of art. 

Through Jeffrey’s life as an artist—an artist who has intentionally isolated himself from the commercial art market—his deep reflections on the relationship between created art, art appreciation and art history have led to an evolving theory about how they feed one another:

 “My sculptural work is completely dedicated to art history,” he says in one of his writings on this subject. “Original ideas grow out of original work, which led me to see art as a source of knowledge. Since these insights form the context within which the work becomes meaningful, it is imperative that the general public, artists and art educators understand them if the work is to be fully appreciated.” 

A new partnership with the University of Victoria will play a key role in the exposition of this theory.

Art as a source of knowledge

Jeffrey Rubinoff first became acquainted with members of UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts through his annual “Company of Ideas” forum, held at Jeffrey’s 22-acre sculpture park (and home) on Hornby Island. The forum, which brings together international scholarly collaborators to share specific insights within their specialties, is part of the sculpture park’s educational program.

When UVic Art History and Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff attended the forum, he and Jeffrey immediately hit it off. Jeffrey invited Allan to return and take part in ongoing discussions about the future of the educational program. Jeffrey began to see the role UVic could play in his goals for the advancement of education in the arts.

In 2014, Jeffrey established a four-year post-doctoral fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge, and was seeking a second academic partnership to support a scholar in the field of modern and contemporary art history. He felt the advantage of partnering with the University of Victoria was two-fold: “It’s local, and they’re there”, he says, meaning he feels the faculty is at pace with his own ideas.         

Jeffrey’s gift to the university will fund an ongoing four-year doctorate fellowship. The student will work with Dr. Antliff and other faculty to research and publish new material in their field. There is also funding for two graduate or undergraduate students to attend the Company of Ideas forum, and possible bursaries for art history and visual arts students.

An artist’s vision

Jeffrey’s vision and generosity astounded the university. “Jeffrey’s sculptural work is monumental in its scope and his legacy will now create a monument to future scholarship," said UVic Dean of Fine Arts Susan Lewis at an event celebrating the gift.

By endowing his gift at UVic, Jeffrey is creating a continuous source of future support. He is also connecting up-and-coming art historians and artists with those at the leading edge of the field by establishing networks and linkages between UVic students, faculty and other high-calibre scholars in his wider educational program. “Now I’m hoping that there will be a vision among this group of people that will evolve on its own,” he says. He is building a community of engaged scholars whose own ideas and published works will add layers to the landscape he has steadily been creating on Hornby Island. 

“Studying world art creates opportunities for intercultural understanding, as people instantly connect with the visual. A greater awareness of the impact of modern and contemporary art can add to the richness of our lives, engage us with the past and present, and inform how we think about our world.” Jeffrey believes art is a vehicle for the evolution of the mind, and through this partnership with UVic, he’s ensuring that his philanthropy is too.

Jeffrey Rubinoff passed away in January, 2017, shortly after this article was published.  Obituary in the Times Colonist.