There’s a new exhibit at the Art Gallery of St. Albert. Go to the second floor and you’ll find a sampling of the province’s most acclaimed aboriginal artists, all courtesy of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.
Animal Spirit showcases several different creative representations of animals within the visual art of five artists.
Jenny Willson-McGrath, the gallery’s exhibition curator, is thrilled to have this temporary show come through as part of the AFA’s TREX, or Travelling Exhibition, program.
“They’re very, very supportive,” she said, remarking about the cultural branch of the provincial government. “The gallery is thankful for that. They’ve given us a lot of time and attention. It’s paid off in the sense that the final result is very effective. When you look at the work that they have, it really is the best of the best.”
This small but impactful collection features some big names, including Jason Carter, Erik Lee Christopherson, Terry McCue, Aaron Paquette, and the late Joane Cardinal-Schubert.
It’s impossible to imagine aboriginal art without acknowledging the vast importance of animals. Totem poles are the most obvious example of the influence that they hold, but it goes much deeper than that. They are spiritual icons, but they’re also family members in many ways. They are brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are guides to the world.
This must be understood clearly for one to have a good appreciation for this show. There is a common phrase in many aboriginal languages. “All my relations” is often spoken at public events, frequently as a blessing.
The Canada Council for the Arts issued a report in 2011 called Understanding Aboriginal Arts in Canada Today. Inside the paper, aboriginal author, broadcaster and filmmaker Thomas King delved into the roots of animal mythology in aboriginal teachings.
“‘All my relations’ is at first a reminder of who we are and of our relationship with both our family and our relatives,” he began. “But the relationships that Native people see go further, the web of kinship extending to the animals, to the birds, to the fish, to the plants, to all the animate and inanimate forms that can be seen or imagined. More than that, ‘All my relations’ is an encouragement for us to accept the responsibilities we have within this universal family by living our lives in a harmonious and moral manner.”
Carter is an Edmonton-based painter, sculptor, designer and illustrator. He’s worked as a videographer with City TV and even collaborated with his colleague, St. Albert-born Bridget Ryan, on the children’s book, Who is Boo? The Terrific Tails of One Trickster Rabbit. That in and of itself is a very telling point about the central role or key inspiration that animals often play in aboriginal art.
“With every artform, it is inspired and in reaction to being human and being an artist,” he said. “It’s kind of a broad description that could be applied to any culture but the aboriginal culture specifically is from the land that was very much a part of their day-to-day life so it does make sense that they come at it from that angle.”
His Considerate Baby Bison is carved out of wonderstone, a material that has a hardness somewhere between soapstone and marble. It’s a much more stylized animal representation than some of the more realist works like Christopherson’s Red Tailed Hawk or Merlin in Flight, but it still retains the sense of the animal in it.
“I like the sharp, hard angles. It’s more inspired by the bird or the animal as opposed to trying to carve a claw,” he said.
The exhibit also includes numerous paintings. McCue has a few oil-on-canvas portraits including the gorgeous Rainbow Bear, a grizzly looking directly at the viewer, its fur glistening with multiple coloured tufts. Schubert’s I Dream of Horse (and Counterpane) is a grand work featuring numerous simplistically painted horses like cave drawings. It’s a deeply symbolic piece.
Paquette (who previously curated Shifting Patterns, a comprehensive First Nations art exhibit, at the gallery back in 2010) has a single sample of his potent paintings. Aniti Anemos looks like stained glass and does much to heighten the spiritual power of animals to him and his culture.
Works from the Collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts
Featuring Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Jason Carter, Erik Lee Christopherson, Terry McCue and Aaron Paquette
Show runs until Sept. 7
Opening reception tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m. during ArtWalk
Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron Street
Call 780-460-4310 or visit www.artgalleryofstalbert.ca for more information.