Artist carved won­ders from wood

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - > ROBIN LAU­RENCE

VIS­UAL ARTS BEAU DICK: REV­O­LU­TION­ARY SPIRIT At the Audain Art Mu­seum un­til June 11

Speak­ing in the doc­u­men­tary film Meet Beau Dick: Maker of Mon­sters, the es­teemed Kwak­waka’wakw artist mused on the en­dur­ing im­por­tance of the cedar tree to his peo­ple. Dick, who died last year at the age of 61, also con­sid­ered the sense of spir­i­tual con­nec­tion he ex­pe­ri­enced when he carved a block of wood taken from an an­cient cedar. Early on, the un­der­stand­ing came to him that what he was mak­ing—a mask, per­haps—was an on­go­ing part of the tree’s life. As form emerged through his carv­ing, he re­al­ized that “Some­thing else was mak­ing this all hap­pen. It wasn’t me—i was just part of it.” Then he added, “This art form is cer­e­mo­nial… It’s given to us as a gift of the Cre­ator.”

An ex­cerpt from the film is play­ing at the Audain Art Mu­seum in Whistler, a mov­ing com­ple­ment to the mu­seum’s ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion Beau Dick: Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Spirit. Dick had a larger-than-life pres­ence, re­flected in the im­pres­sive scale of some of his later de­pic­tions of Kwak­waka’wakw en­ti­ties and el­e­ments, such as his Wind Mask, a work both sub­tle and pow­er­ful, made in 2016 and some four-and-a-half feet in height. Yet, in the film, Dick speaks softly and gen­tly, al­most rev­er­ently, in keep­ing, it seems, with the rev­er­ence he felt not only for his cul­tural her­itage, but for all life. A sense pre­vail­ing through­out the show is that his works em­anate the en­ergy and com­mit­ment of the man who made them. Still, it isn’t all se­ri­ous­ness and solemn re­spect here. Wo­ven into Dick’s art are strands of Trick­ster-like hu­mour and bawdi­ness: a skele­tal Wi­nala­galis pup­pet with an erect pe­nis and dan­gling tes- ticles; a slyly named group­ing of four painted deer skins; a Killer Whale head­dress with a plas­tic ac­tion fig­ure stand­ing on its back.

Cu­rated by the AAM’S Dar­rin Martens and the artist’s daugh­ter Lin­nea Dick, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Spirit cel­e­brates a man who was much more than an artist. To his cre­ative per­sona, add hered­i­tary chief and com­mu­nity leader, teacher and men­tor, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural ac­tivist, sto­ry­teller and cer­e­mo­ni­al­ist. The big and am­bi­tious show sur­veys his ca­reer across some four decades, from a leather purse carved and painted with a Si­si­utl de­sign to dance masks pro­duced not long be­fore his death. It out­lines the un­bro­ken line of Kwak­waka’wakw carvers who taught and in­flu­enced him; re­veals his in­ter­est in mas­ter­ing styles out­side his par­tic­u­lar cul­tural her­itage; gives ex­am­ples of the artists he stud­ied and col­lab­o­rated with; and high­lights younger artists who were men­tored by him. It also points out some of the themes and char­ac­ters to which he kept re­turn­ing, such as the bloody-lipped Dzunukwa, the Wild Wo­man of the Woods, and the ghostly Buk­wus, who cap­tures the souls of the drowned.

Dick died un­ex­pect­edly in March 2017, just be­fore his art’s in­ter­na­tional de­but at Doc­u­menta 14 in Athens, Greece. An en­tire gallery is given over to Un­der­sea King­dom, the cy­cle of 18 masks ex­hib­ited there, which tell the story of Yo’lak­wame, his ad­ven­tures in the un­der­world, and his trav­els on the back of a su­per­nat­u­ral whale. Im­bued with en­vi­ron­men­tal as well as cul­tural mean­ing, most of the lively and char­ac­ter­ful masks on view had been or were in­tended to be danced, al­though a cou­ple of them, such as a big, red Sculpin, were de­signed to be hung on the wall. Their di­verse dis­play here ex­em­pli­fies Dick’s abil­ity to cre­ate cer­e­mo­nial works for use by his own na­tion and more “sec­u­lar” art meant for ex­hi­bi­tion and sale.

This dual ap­proach to art-mak­ing is ev­i­dent through­out the show, with works such as his im­pres­sive Ha­matsa dance masks, ex­e­cuted in more “tra­di­tional” Kwak­waka’wakw scale, style, and pal­ette, and some of his Dzunukwa and Buk­wus masks, again, mon­u­men­tal in size and bear­ing Dick’s par­tic­u­lar and in­no­va­tive way of work­ing. His carv­ing here is of­ten sub­tly mod­u­lated, his paint ap­pli­ca­tion is matte and his colours muted, of­ten rang­ing through blacks, greys, and whites. The pig­ments ap­pear to have been spar­ely ap­plied and then care­fully rubbed or sanded down, giv­ing them the patina of old age.

Beau Dick: Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Spirit is a mov­ing trib­ute to a beloved artist and mul­ti­fac­eted hu­man be­ing. It ably demon­strates the won­ders he re­al­ized from the gift be­stowed upon him by his Cre­ator.

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