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 tradition of native peoples and the problem of resolving this tradition with contemporary artwork.
Influences in my work are varied and derive from shamanic imagery of ancient peoples the world over(e.g. Siberian, North-American Indian, Ancient Norse,
Oceanic). There are western and contemporary art influences (e.g. German
Expressionism, Absract Expressionism, Antoni Tapies, J.M.W.Turner, Edvard Munch, Primitivist Art, Arte Povera, Robert Rauschenberg, David Milne, Jean Fautrier, Paterson Ewen, Paul Klee, Mark Rothko, Jean Dubuffet, Symbolism) which have affected my work to various degrees.
My artwork 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. My intent is a kind of visually poetic content with meaning layered and built through a process of chaos/control of medium and ideas. The strong ethnological/anthropological influence in the art is derived from research into shamanistic beliefs, rituals and traditions of aboriginal peoples worldwide. This background is a major factor in the development of my art. These influences reflect concerns continued from my Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Saskatchewan, my thesis on ‘Creativity’ and previous work.
My painting explores the role of particular imagery, rituals and ceremonial objects (e.g. string games, masks, drums, ceremonial garb, burial mounds, medicine wheels, mazes, totemic images, talismans, symbols, design, pictographs, petroglyphs, etc.) as these relate to giving a ‘face and a voice’ to the mythological and ideological beliefs of shamanic cultures, both past and present.
The artwork is eclectic in that I use elements from the symbolism, ideology and imagery of shamanic tradition, transforming and integrating them into a contemporary poetic approach to painting. My expressionistic/primitivistic treatment of material and imagery is based on a non-objective/semi-abstracted visual language using contemporary ideas and techniques in handling the visual imagery and artist materials.
My concern with mark-making is seen in gestural scratches, broken lines, dots,
rubbing, scraping, washes, scraffito, overlayered paint, drip marks, splashes 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 process.Unexpected relationships of materials, form and content are revealed during the development of the image. Figure/ground interaction is of paramount importance in the work. I think that my painting has parallels to music forms such as free-form jazz. In all my work there is a strong graphic element reflecting previous drawing and printmaking experience. Drawing is particularly important in revealing the essence of a physical or imaginary concept. It brings, without loss of subtlety, a freshness, conciseness and primitive directness to the creative process. Spontaneous gesture is a primary element.
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, archeology, 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 flux 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/unconscious.
The painting paints itself in a sense as form and content arise from process. Poetic knowledge is the result of metaphysical metamorphosis, 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. Art occurs in the ‘moment’. It is the transformation and externalization of the ‘unconscious’ space in symbolic/poetic terms.
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 in conjunction with the European elements. I find that the artist has to examine ‘roots’ if there is to be development artistically.The first step on the artistic journey comes with knowledge of the artist’s earliest experiences linked to larger world experience. Memory, both conscious and unconscious, is a key to unlocking the past. There are strong symbolic and ‘Jungian’ elements in the artwork.
The art that I do is directly connected with the shamanic/spiritual tradition which is derived from the belief systems of an ancient human past. This artistic perspective involves beliefs centred 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, a holistic world-view. ‘Shamanism’ promoted the viewpoint of living in harmony with the earth, as opposed to the Judeo-Christian-Islamist idea of mankind’s dominion over the earth and all its creatures.
My contemporary art approach is also derived from Western and International art traditions, past and present.These traditions were influenced to a great extent by shamanic based art of great sophistication (e.g. art forms from North/South America, Oceania and Africa). Artists from the Western and International art scenes took a great deal from these sources; as for instance the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Joseph Beuys, Picasso, Paul Klee, the Abstract and German Expressionists et cetera. These artists incorporated elements of the art forms, thereby creating a prism through which they could discover themselves. Their work is evidence of the universality of art.
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’ or what have you. My art represents aspects of my own culture and history personally, and in the wider archetypal sense, includes all common human experience. It is both ‘Canadian’ and universal.
The ancient tradition of shamanic based art offers huge potential in the development of new national 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 conveyed through poetic meaning. Art is a journey of the human spirit through the matter/space/time continuum.