First Nations art from the Thunder Bay Gallery’s permanent collection graces the walls in a large show titled, by Request, one of the best collective exhibitions of visual art in recent years. Guaranteed to be a popular the works exhibit both quality and variety, representing decades worth of great work by established local and internationally known artists.
Described as a “dynamic approach to choosing artworks for exhibition” various individuals and groups involved in the region’s arts community had a say in choosing the work. This democratic process involved a survey employing nine batches of twenty works from the collection, five works to be chosen from each. The individuals and groups are listed in the show.
Within all the works are references to the land, from the micro to the macro, from catgut to outer space. Nature infuses itself into the works, revitalizing the imagery revealing how nature supersedes manmade creations. Nature has a style all its own that survives artistic movements where style and ideology meld into artistic periods that can end up living in the history books and less so in our hearts, becoming more distant as the years pass.
Which is why so much of this work feels alive, fresh again, brought into the light for us to see. Having so much great art stored away for great lengths of time can feel like a disservice to the artists who create the work, and to the public who would love to see it. On the other hand the works are made special, reawakened for us to see again, a practice which happens naturally in other cultures, such as African tribes who bring stools, sculptures, weapons and clothing into view only during ceremonies, some taking place decades apart.
With so many wonderful artworks to choose from, I’ll pick a few favourites.
Ahmoo Angeconeb’s “The Gifts” is a lovely linocut on textured paper featuring a fish, bear and loon. With only minimal personal than most, especially for imagery that is minimal and stylized.
Daphne Odjig’s “The Grand Entrance” has wonderful movement created with a combination of bright colours and swirling lines. Many of the faces are smiling and bubbling up from the surface of the painting, swirling before the viewer as if exploding through a wall or swarming at you in a dream.
“Eunice”, by Valerie Palmer is a beautiful oil painting with a spiritual serenity encompassing both the woman and the beautiful seascape. Connected by mood with somber tones there is an emblematic contemplation as seen in works by Frederick Varley, but with a more controlled use of paint.
A painting with one of the best titles, “Head Kicked In By Buffalo,” by Linus Woods, is painted with a more expressionist method employing colours and a style similar to that of Mexican artist Fernando de Szyszlo. A mixed media picture the painting employs characters of both foreground and background that are comic like in depiction, but abstract in execution. The trees make for little background cartoons. The painting is a fun image open to interpretation.