A R T I S T 'S S T A T E M E N T
My work explores a Metis-Canadian sensibility with modernist concerns. I have an expressionist-primitivist approach to painting with subject matter related to two aspects of my Native-Canadian reality and viewpoint.
These concerns are the shamanic/spiritual tradition and the contemporary approach with its historical/economic/cultural/political content. Influences in my work are varied and derive from shamanic imagery of ancient peoples the world over (e.g. North American Indian, Inuit, African, Oceanic, Australian Aborigine, Ancient Norse, Aleut, Siberian, etc.). There are western and contemporary art influences (e.g. J.M.W. Turner, Paul Klee, Paul Gauguin, Edward Munch, Henry Matisse, Kathe Kollwik, the German expressionists, Abstract expressionism, Primitivist Art, Arte Povera, Antoni Tapies, Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, David Milne, etc.), which have affected my work to various degrees.
My work involves combining and reinterpreting the iconography of various aboriginal peoples in a contemporary perspective. Intuition, sensuality, emotive content and creative thought are all combined in an individualistic consideration of means and method.
The strong ethnological/anthropological influence in my work is derived from research into Shamanistic beliefs, rituals and traditions of aboriginal peoples, specifically; Aleut, Inuit, Navajo, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Cree, Dene, Hopi, Buryat, Evenk, Goldi, Sammi, Sepik River tribes of New Guinea, and so on. These influences reflect concerns continued from my Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Saskatchewan and previous work.
I think that native peoples of North and South America need to explore and identify with their ancient ancestral and cultural roots in Siberia, along with the rich heritage of their own national backgrounds. It may well be that the origins of Siberian and other cultures derived from North and South America, and not the reverse.
My painting explores the role of particular imagery, rituals and ceremonial objects (e.g. masks, drums, rattles, ceremonial garb, burial mounds, medicine wheels, house and village plans, architecture such as Aztec pyramids, medicine bundles, totemic images, talismans, symbols, design, carving, painting, ceramics, petroglyphs, pictographs, etc.) as these relate to the giving of a "face and a voice" to the mythological and ideological beliefs of native cultures, both past and present.
Coupled with the shamanic/spiritual tradition is the contemporary art approach involving historical/cultural/economic/political questions in art-making. This approach reflects concerns with ecological, socio-economic, political and cultural issues; concerns both personal, and general.
My art-making is introspective in the examination of historic events and their effects on native peoples today, a reflection of personal experience. There is a questioning of the circumstances which led to the current problems of natives and non-natives today in techno-society.
In the past, my work was mainly acrylic paint on canvas due to necessity. I plan to do more combining of traditional/natural materials with modern/technological materials (e.g. bones, hides, thread, rope, stones, sticks, vines, acrylics, wire, plexi-glass, glass, sand, lumber, willow, metal sheets, pipe, copperplate, nails, plywood, computer chips, etc.). I have done some work in this area before, though not extensively.
The art work is eclectic in that both approaches take from traditional symbolism and images along with contemporary ideas and techniques in handling the visual imagery and artist materials. Elements from the two approaches are sometimes incorporated together, reflecting a more personal interpretation of art traditions and influences. My expressionistic/primitivistic treatment of material and imagery from both approaches is based on a non-objective/semi-abstracted visual language.
My concern with mark-making is seen in gestural scratches, broken lines, dots, rubbing, washes, scraffito, overlayered paint, drip marks and so on, which are evidence of process in the creative act. Physical clues are left behind as to stages gone through. Matter is explored as itself and as part of the process. Unexpected relationships of materials, form and content are often discovered during the development of the images. Figure/ground relationships are of paramount importance in the work.
In all my work there is a strong graphic element, reflecting previous drawing and printmaking experiences. Drawing is particularly important in revealing the essence of a physical or imaginary image. It brings, without loss of subtlety, a freshness, conciseness, and primitive directness to the creative process.
The viewer and artist use art as a language in communicating a relationship between themselves and their world experience. Subject and object are incorporated into the being of the work itself. The visual elements relate to graffiti, archaeology, the human figure, landscape, animals, dreams, mythology, ritual, weather, phenomena of celestial origin, history, life experiences. This visual language uses the visible universe as a metaphor for the invisible, a communication between the world and the spirit, a mystical relationship.
Art is the result of a process; an intuitive, sensual and cognitive response to the creative handling of materials. I either imagine a work and change the idea as I work toward it, or the process of working gives rise to ideas which are carried out in stages of successive changes, until the visual reality becomes an unexpected actuality. There are no finished works as such, only successive stages of process and productivity, states of being and becoming, a gradual revelation of the conscious and unconscious.
The painting paints itself in a sense as form and content arise from process. Poetic knowledge is the result, the artist being the catalyst to the mystery of creative action. The creative act therefore, is the result of a process of integration and actualization of conscious and unconscious experience - a transformative process which gives form to artistic vision.
My art deals with the idea of 'being witness' to the strong spiritual content within the artistic traditions of aboriginal peoples in Canada and world-wide. It also pays witness to history, particularly 'colonial history'. These ancient aboriginal artistic traditions, with their basis rooted in Shamanic ideology and belief have survived, despite the devastating effects of colonialism.
My interest in shamanic/aboriginal art became particularly strong after I finished my four year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Victoria in 1980. Previous to this, my training involved mainly the study of Western art history and art. There was virtually no mention of Native and Shamanic art history or art. I felt the need (being Metis) to look into the native side of my heritage. I find that the artist has to look into his or her 'roots' if there is to be progress in the creative field. The first step on the artistic journey comes with knowledge of an artist s earliest experiences. Memory, both conscious and unconscious, is a key to unlocking the past.
My approach to the shamanic/spiritual tradition is derived from the belief systems of an ancient human past. This artistic perspective involves beliefs centered in myths and dreams, both individual and collective, in a culture which has as its central figure, the Shaman. It is a 'nature-oriented belief system and ideology. 'Shamanism' promoted the viewpoint of living in harmony with the earth, as opposed to the Judeo-Christian biblical idea of mankind's dominion over the earth and all of its creatures.
The second, more contemporary approach, is derived from Western and International art traditions, past and present. These traditions were influenced to a great extent by Shamanic/Aboriginal (so-called primitive) art of great sophistication (e.g. the art of North and South America, Oceanic and African art forms). Artists from the Western and International art scenes took a great deal from these sources; as for instance, the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Paul Klee, the Abstract and German Expressionists, et cetera. These Western artists incorporated the other art forms, thereby creating a prism through which they could discover themselves.
The contemporary approach (nurtured by a solid grounding in shamanic artistic roots) has led myself and other native artists to raise questions about social/economic/political/cultural issues specific to ourselves and in a general, worldwide context.
I think we need to work toward a new 'Canadian' art which reflects the multinational character of Canada. This art should give fair due to the tradition which was already here as well as the contributions of other Canadians, not just those of a Western background.
Towards this end, I think that the artistic legacy of North and South American first nations is of paramount importance. There has to be more of a two-way dialogue between new-comers and the ancient Turtle Island peoples [this place being an Old world, not a new one]. My viewpoint as a Metis is central to this dialogue, since I am tied by blood and spirit to both worlds/one world. To carry this argument further, there has to be a dialogue between international/traditional groups of the Third World and contemporary/international artists from so-called developed nations. Great art is a function more of wisdom than of technological advancement.
The reasons for a lack of a distinctly identifiable Canadian art and culture stem from a number of causes. Briefly, these include ignorance about native cultures; lack of a two way dialogue; racism; socioeconomic and political division; art market control and definition of culture vis-a-vis native/non-native; the general lack of support for the arts in Canada; and American/European mass media control with particular reference to T V., the internet, radio, and newspapers.
My role as an artist is not to represent 'Indigenous, 'Native' or 'First Nations' art, as the current labeling or pigeon holing goes. My work is, in this post-modernist time, tending toward a more comprehensive portrayal of my interests as an artist. I feel that my themes and the character of the work reflect a more universal interest which cannot be constricted within the narrow confines of terms such as 'Western 'Native', 'Hybrid,' 'Canadian', or what have you.
The ancient tradition of Shamanic-based art offers huge potential in the development of new 'Canadian' art and international art forms. My work aspires to the spiritual, to the recovery of the main tradition of creativity. The encounter with shamanic ideology and culture compels the modern artist to admit to the binding ties of a common spiritual heritage. Through the creative experience and its profound link to the unconscious, artists confront the on-going history of the human spirit. The search requires not imitation, but the revelation and expression of those intangibles which can only be expressed through poetic meaning. Art is a journey of the human spirit through the space/matter/time continuum.
~ ~ ~