The artwork on each of Ashoona’s instruments is original and greatly varied, ranging from graffiti-like designs and worlds on one, to the vibrant, almost rainbow effect of the drawings on another.
A guitar player since age six, I have long admired musical instruments, for their inherent beauty, as well as the time-honoured tradition of adorning them with artwork. Some of my favourite guitar players, like Jimmy Page and Bill Frisell, perform on legendary art covered instruments. In working with acclaimed artists from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, on the “Guitar Project,” I have had the privilege of merging my two passions: visual art and music.
When I began working at Feheley
Fine Arts in 2006, I was introduced to the incredible outpouring of creative contemporary drawing that was developing in the North, even travelling to Kinngait in 2014. Throughout my time with the gallery, I established many wonderful and lasting friendships with ar tists, including Tim Pitsiulak (1967–2016), Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, Jutai Toonoo (1959–2015) and Qavavau Manumie, all of whom have artworks on at least one guitar. Together, with the help and support of Studio Manager William Ritchie, the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative and Dorset Fine Arts, we embarked on a collaborative project to create a limited series of high-quality musical instruments adorned with images by these exceptional artists.
The first step involved assembling blank, white guitar bodies to send to the North. The artists were encouraged to draw at liberty on each piece as they saw fit. The guitar body presented a new surface that was completely novel to the artists in the studio. The artwork was then returned to me in Toronto, ON, where I began the process of turning them into finished musical instruments. It takes several months to complete the entire process for each instrument, but the end results have been well worth the wait.
Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies was crucial in helping get the project off the ground by encouraging the creation of the very first instruments. He has since toured and played extensively with his unique guitars by Shuvinai Ashoona. While in Kinngait, Hearn, Toonoo and I formed a band called The Walrus Lips. Although we had only one practice, it was epic! The artwork on each of Ashoona’s instruments is original and greatly varied, ranging from graffiti-like designs and worlds on one, to the vibrant, almost rainbow effect of the drawings on another. With its waves of resonating colour, the artwork is less narrative than her typical drawings and more of a pure design. The syllabic texts translate in English as “Guitar,” “They are my nice guitars,” “It would be good to play the guitar together” and so on. Ashoona has produced artwork for eight instruments, the most by any one artist. Each is unique and beautiful. With the help of my band, we video recorded a few short pieces of music in order to show Ashoona her work in action. She requested two particular songs: “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells and “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart. To date we have produced some nineteen instruments—including fourteen electric guitars, two bass guitars and three ukuleles. All have been shown at art fairs and exhibitions from Iqaluit, NU, to Toronto and are now held in private and corporate collections. This guitar, made in 2013, was acquired for the BMO Corporate Art Collection in 2015 and is installed at their head office. I am fortunate in my current role as Senior Associate Curator of BMO Financial Group’s Corporate Art Collection to be able to visit this particular guitar on a daily basis. It is beautifully displayed in our main gallery area as part of the permanent collection. My respect, gratitude and admiration goes out to these artists and the studio in Kinngait.