BY PAUL GESSELL
Odjig is a 95-year-old Aboriginal artist originally from Manitoulin Island. Her father belonged to the Potawatomi Nation and her mother was an English war bride from the First World War.
Today, Odjig lives in Kelowna, B.C. and is still creating art — delicate, near abstract pencil and crayon drawings that suggest human figures and forests. In her early years as an artist, Odjig painted in the Woodland style made famous by Norval Morrisseau. But unlike Morrisseau, Odjig branched out into other styles of art, including cubism and surrealism, during her long career. She even did a series of highly erotic paintings in the Woodland style.
Works of Odjig have not been seen much in Ottawa since her solo show in 2009 at the National Gallery of Canada. It was the first and only time a First Nations woman was given a solo show at the National Gallery. Odjig is also a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Visual Arts Award.
The Cube Gallery show will be dominated by Odjig’s small drawings created in 2014. But the real stars of the exhibition are some of her older paintings including the joyful Spirit Dancers from 1983, the dark, brooding Universe from 1970 and a 1975 study for part of the 27-foot-long mural called The Indian in Transition, Odjig’s signature work, which is one of the Crown jewels of the Canadian Museum of History and is on permanent exhibition there.
The prices of the Odjig works vary from $1,000 for the new drawings to $25,000 for the much larger, older paintings. This is a rare opportunity for Ottawa collectors to purchase Odjig works here.
One of Odjig’s fans is Lee-Ann Martin, former curator of contemporary Aboriginal art at what is now the Canadian Museum of History. Odjig’s early work was “groundbreaking,” says Martin, in its subject matter and in its style, which was unlike any other Aboriginal artist.
“Daphne continues to inspire generations of Aboriginal artists; her artistic practice and activism is a vital contribution to the ongoing revisions of Canadian art history. Daphne’s position as a respected cultural spokesperson during a particularly vibrant and challenging period in Aboriginal-White relations in Canada forever changed the landscape within which today’s artists work.”
In a recent interview with the National Gallery’s online magazine, Odjig was asked what advice she has for young artists. She replied: “Without hesitation, I would say just be yourself and let your imagination, thoughts, beliefs, views, visions — or whatever inspires you — be seen. Be vulnerable, and share what is inside you. Regardless of what medium you chose to create, open up and share your gift.”
Home Away From Home
Barry Ace, another Aboriginal artist originally from Manitoulin Island, seems to have taken Odjig’s advice to heart. The Ottawa-based Ace is a multi-media artist. That means, in his case, explorations into pretty much every medium possible, including beadwork, painting, photography, sculpture, and assemblages. He is an artist on the rise and very much in demand.
Ace recently had a solo show in Portugal of mainly photo-based work and returned to Ottawa just in time for the opening of a small Aboriginal-themed group show, including a work by him, at the Ottawa Art Gallery.
That exhibition is called Home Away from Home and was curated by Wahsontiio Cross of Carleton University. Cross selected only Aboriginal works from the Ottawa Art Gallery’s rapidly growing collection to “address issues of space and place, belonging and home, as well as a relationship with landscape and the land.”
Ace is represented by a work titled Anishinabek in the Hood. He took an old vinyl school map of North America and then painted a large thunderbird covering most of the continent. Ace is saying this land belongs to First Nations, who once roamed freely without the need to show passports at the Canada-U.S. border. Around the thunderbird are various other Aboriginal symbols.
In a riff on decolonization, Ottawa artist Jeff Thomas has several photos in the same exhibition of his son, now known as Bear Witness, one of the members of the very successful electric pow-wow group A Tribe Called Red. The photos have Bear posed in front of the statue of a kneeling Aboriginal scout that used to be placed very subserviently in front of the Nepean Point statue of Samuel de Champlain. The sculpture of the scout was moved to other quarters after many Aboriginal people said they found the kneeling man to be insulting. The photos were taken in 1996, long before Bear became a member of Canadian music royalty and very much a symbol of decolonization himself with his chart-topping Aboriginal-themed music.
Other artists in the exhibition include Rosalie Favell, Ron Noganosh, Jane Ash Poitras, and Gerald McMaster. The exhibition continues until May 10, as does a solo show at Ottawa Art Gallery of photo-based works by the ever inventive Andrew Wright of Ottawa.
Chelsea Erotica VIII
Old Chelsea, just north of Hull, used to have an annual erotic art show around Valentine’s Day in the former Joineryco Gallery, a building that, according to a local legend, was once a bordello. The art was racy and so was the live entertainment on the very crowded opening nights. Chelsea is still talking about the “policeman” who came one year to quieten the throng, only to start disrobing.
Well, the gallery is no more, but the erotic art show is being reborn this year in the same building that now serves as a private home. Chelsea Erotica VIII: In Flagrante will be held Feb. 13-15 in the reputed old bordello at 253 Chemin Old Chelsea. Expect to see works from such local artists as Maskull Lasserre, Pamela Cockcroft-Lasserre, Marie-France Nitski, Erin Robertson, Sharon VanStarkenburg and Reid McLachlan.
The vernissage is Feb. 13 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The temporary gallery is also to be open Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Some of the proceeds will be donated to local cultural charities.