Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Woodland Time Machine (Part I)

Painter Alex Janvier wins Governor General's award (2008)
by APTNDigitalNations
Elizabeth Withey, The Edmonton Journal, Wednesday, March 26th - 2008
EDMONTON - Winning a 2008 Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts is like realizing a childhood hockey dream, says aboriginal artist Alex Janvier.

"It feels like I've gotten to the first line with the Montreal Canadiens and scored my first goal," the Cold Lake painter said Tuesday from Montreal. "I always wanted that, when I was young, but I never played hockey that well."

Janvier, 73, is one of eight Canadians to win the prestigious national prize this year. The winners, announced Tuesday morning by the Canada Council for the Arts, each receive $25,000. Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean will present the awards Friday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The prizes are given annually to visual and media artists for distinguished career achievement in fine arts, applied arts, independent film and video, or audio and new media.

Janvier, who is of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent, has been painting for more than 40 years and is known for his unique visual language based on the cultural and spiritual traditions of Dene people in Alberta's north. His paintings, characterized by flowing, curvilinear lines, blend modern abstract styles with traditional native themes and have earned him a reputation as one of Canada's greatest artists.

As a boy, Janvier might not have excelled at the hockey rink, but he stood out in visual arts. Born on Le Goff Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations in 1935, Janvier got his start early, drawing animals in the wet soil with sticks. At age eight, he was sent to Blue Quills Residential School near St. Paul, where the principal, a Parisian priest, noticed his artistic abilities and encouraged him.

"The schools that I went to have always had paper and crayons. That was a gift above and beyond scratching on the ground," Janvier said.

In 1960, Janvier graduated from Calgary's Alberta Institute of Technology and Art (now known as the Alberta College of Art and Design). Six years later, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs commissioned him to produce 80 paintings.

Janvier brought together a group of artists for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67 and, in 1973, formed what came to be known as the Group of Seven native artists, pioneers of native art in North America (the group actually had eight members). Joining Janvier were Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray, Bill Reid and Joe Sanchez and Daphne Odjig.

"The best thing that ever happened to me was to become an artist," Janvier said. "I was just fortunate to stay with it."

Janvier was offered a teaching job at the University of Alberta in the '60s but turned it down to paint full-time.

"I was told that I would starve for sure," he said. "I said, 'Look, I come from an Indian reserve. We're kind of used to that. Until the rabbit comes along.' "

In 2007, Janvier became a member of the Order of Canada.

He runs an art gallery from a rented space in downtown Cold Lake, and says he may put the prize money towards building his own gallery along the west side of the lake, near his home.
He says he was shocked to learn he'd won the national award. "When you work in these arts, you don't always expect rewards. Your reward is that you finish painting, finish a work, and then you go on to the next one."

The other winners announced Tuesday were jeweller-turned-knifemaker Chantal Gilbert of Quebec City; Vancouver avant-garde artist Eric Metcalfe; Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak; Quebec documentary filmmaker Serge Giguere; Montreal sculptor Michel Goulet; Toronto multidisciplinary artist Tanya Mars; and Shirley Thomson, a former director of the National Gallery of Canada and the McCord Museum in Montreal.


>>> Reference posts:

- Friends of Norval Morrisseau (Part II) &
- Great Anishinaabe/Woodland Artists (Part VIII).

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