NORTH­ERN LIGHTS RE­VEALED

NOW ON EX­HIBIT AT THE AGH: A pair of Inuit artists who draw a world they know best

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - REGINA HAGGO dhaggo@thes­pec.com

“Even if life is hard, keep draw­ing.”

Keno­juak Ashe­vak said this to her nephew Tim Pit­si­u­lak. He took her ad­vice. Their draw­ings are on show in Draw­ing Life, a gor­geous ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.

Draw­ing on pa­per with pen­cil was Ashe­vak’s first love, but she was also a sculp­tor and painter. She be­came Canada’s best known Inuit artist.

Ashe­vak (1927-2013) was born on Baf­fin Is­land, Nu­navut. She be­gan draw­ing in the 1950s and sent her draw­ings to a print­mak­ing co-op­er­a­tive in Cape Dorset to be made into prints. In 1966 she moved to Cape Dorset. Her sub­jects in­clude an­i­mals, human fig­ures and birds, es­pe­cially owls. Her stone­cut print, “En­chanted Owl,” was re­pro­duced on the six cent postage stamp com­mem­o­rat­ing the cen­ten­nial of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries in 1970.

An owl, maybe an en­chanted one, takes cen­tre stage in “Un­ti­tled.” Drawn in an em­phat­i­cally frontal and sym­met­ri­cal way, the owl sits on a pair of leaves. Flow­ers sur­round it.

Ashe­vak ar­ranges the flow­ers with care. Three pur­ple blooms al­ter­nate with two ma­genta ones. Bul­b­like red flow­ers flank each ma­genta flower.

“I may start off at one end of a form not even know­ing what the en­tirety of the form is go­ing to be; just draw­ing as I am think­ing, think­ing as I am draw­ing,” Ashe­vak said. Her art is styl­ized, spa­cious and lin­ear. She builds up her forms with short mul­ti­coloured lines, and usu­ally out­lines them with a felt pen.

In an­other “Un­ti­tled” draw­ing, Ashe­vak or­ders nine birds into a pleas­ing ar­range­ment. She once said her aim was al­ways “to make some­thing beau­ti­ful, that is all.”

A group of birds with webbed feet, all drawn in pro­file, stand or walk on an in­vis­i­ble ground line. Their closed beaks sug­gest quiet­ness. She liked the chal­lenge of mak­ing fig­ures look sim­i­lar. “I try to make them look the same,” she said. “With those erasable pen­cils, I drew them cor­rect by eras­ing un­til they look the same, which is, at times, dif­fi­cult.”

But she adds va­ri­ety by lin­ing the nine birds up in threes. And she changes their des­ti­na­tions, al­ter­nat­ing the di­rec­tion in which each row faces.

Like Ashe­vak, Pit­si­u­lak (1967-2016) em­braced draw­ing and sculp­ture. He was also born on Baf­fin Is­land, mov­ing to Cape Dorset in 2002.

In “Im­pos­si­ble” he draws him­self draw­ing. Wear­ing a base­ball cap and glasses, he out­lines a whale on a wal­rus tusk. He’s al­ready drawn a pair of hun­ters in kayaks ap­proach­ing the whale. The nar­rower part of the tusk con­tains tra­di­tional mark­ings. Pit­si­u­lak is known for his big, al­most monochro­matic, draw­ings of an­i­mals as­so­ci­ated with tra­di­tional Inuit hunt­ing: seals, cari­bou and bears.

“I am a hunter and I know the land and the an­i­mals of the north,” he said.

“Walk­ing on Thin Ice” has us look­ing down on a po­lar bear whose big­ness he makes strik­ingly ob­vi­ous by hav­ing it take up the whole space. Lots of thin pen­cil lines run­ning in many di­rec­tions cre­ate the il­lu­sion of fur on a bulky body. Pit­si­u­lak said he worked first by tak­ing photographs, then draw­ing in the stu­dio.

Regina Haggo, art his­to­rian, pub­lic speaker, cu­ra­tor and for­mer pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dun­das Val­ley School of Art.

Keno­juak Ashe­vak, Un­ti­tled, graphite, coloured pen­cil and felt pen on pa­per, 1990s. Part of Draw­ing Life, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.

Keno­juak Ashe­vak, Un­ti­tled, graphite, coloured pen­cil and felt pen on pa­per, 1990s. Part of Draw­ing Life, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.

Tim Pit­si­u­lak, Im­pos­si­ble, coloured pen­cil and ink on pa­per, 2014. Part of Draw­ing Life, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.

Tim Pit­si­u­lak, Walk­ing on Thin Ice, pen­cil, pen­cil crayon and ink on pa­per, 2015. Part of Draw­ing Life, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.

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