Thursday, March 4, 2010
Last week the Marion Scott Gallery in Gastown held an opening for Kananginak Pootoogook, an important Inuit artist who was having his first showing in five years.
He was there for it, as was his fellow Cape Dorset artist Jamasie Pitseolak, whose small jewel-like sculptures glistened in a glass case, and the former Kinngait Studio manager Jimmy Manning had come as well.
The evening was packed with people and had the flair of a Soho opening. A guitarist sat by one wall, playing tirelessly and without fault. It was great to see so many people turn out to see the work of Kananginak, a man who'd brought a modern sensibility to Inuit art decades before his well-known niece, Annie Pootoogook.
He's been at work for about 50 years and what he's produced is stunning, not only the meticulous and brilliantly colored depictions of Northern bird life but his often sly interpretations of how life is changing for the modern Inuit: this is social realism at its realest. There are 31 works in the show, including two that are epic in size. By the time of the opening, 28 had sold.
I couldn't take my eyes off one piece in particular. It was of a husky in the process of being created. You can see Kananginak's hand just putting the final touches on one of its hindpaws, one small area still white. The dog looks up at him and it's that expression in its eyes that makes it unforgettable. The drawing is like a witty play on transformation myth. The hands frame the image and in a way, define it. This is the closest work I know that manages to speak of an inter-special understanding, the word referring to species.
At one point, Kananginak spoke to the crowd in English. Then he sang a song in Inuktitut as his granddaughter's eyes welled with tears. His beautiful song had the same effect on others.
The enormous dignity of the man.
The show runs to April 4.