by Brian Jungen
I stopped drawing in 1998. I abandoned it in favour of sculpture, which was fairly new to me at the time and gave me a charge that drawing never did. And yet, I had been drawing since I was a child, so when I stopped at the age of 28, I assumed I would return to drawing as an art-making format at some point.
From about the age of 12, I had started drawing imagery from mass media and had stopped drawing from my imagination. I think this transition had to do with the power that television and print media had on my adolescent brain, as well as the influence of my peers. I used drawing as a way to escape where I was living (Northern BC) and to transport me to what I was seeing on TV (mostly Southern California, Hawaii and New York City). By the time I moved to Vancouver at 18 to go to art college, I had started to use drawing as a device to ask questions about who I am as a Native Canadian, and as a nerdy gay guy with one foot in the city and one foot still stuck in the mud of Northern BC.
After art school I moved to New York City and spent roughly three years there. I drew because I had no money and no space to do anything else, and I was able to find some comfort in a small community of folks who were active in drawing at that time. I met Nicole Eisenman then, and her wall-drawing project had a profound influence on me. The brief time I hung out with Nicole convinced me that drawing could be a means for political and artistic freedom, and that I should take it more seriously. She and I shared a style of drawing, yet her work had a deep resounding quality as she put far more effort into her work than I did at the time. I left NYC to get serious about art.
When I was back in Vancouver, I started to draw on the cheapest materials I could find so that I could pump them out and wheat paste them on buildings around my studio, which was in the Downtown Eastside. Geoffrey Farmer and I shared that studio and we used drawing as a way to push each other, to see how extreme we could take it. I used images from stacks of National Geographic Magazines, and I would sometimes alter the figures to sexualize them, creating explicit tableaux of queer/Native aggression. I was interested in the tools of anthropology and how the West looked at the non-West. These drawings were almost automatic, full of overlapping line drawings. I made hundreds but very few exist today. I was interested in playing with stereotypes of Native folks but adding queerness to the mix and putting this work literally out in the streets. I wanted the images to be directly available to the public without the mediation of exhibitions. This led to my on-the-street solicited drawing project, which was my first attempt at installation art and the beginning of my departure from drawing.
So now I am 47 and I am drawing again, and it hasn’t been easy. It is difficult for me to get excited about drawing, but it is elemental to the development of all of my thinking in art. I use drawing as a means to an end, an end other than drawing. For this new series, I am using the paper as a three-dimensional element, as a tool in the mark making process. Folds appear where I turn the paper on itself, to use it as an edge for pencil crayons. In some places there are images on both sides of the paper, but only one side is exposed.
I want paper to be present. Drawings are, after all, on a surface that exists in the world of objects.
I am also returning to mass media as a source material, only now I am using images from gay dating apps. I want these drawings to reflect who I am at this point in my life. I like that these apps provide endless source material and that men in remote places like Northern BC can share a little (or a lot) of themselves with the world. Social media is where we are at as a society, and its lure is that it enables us to be closer to each other. But I am afraid that we are becoming further apart. It only takes seconds to post or delete a selfie; these drawings will last longer. Perhaps these drawings can share a little of the loneliness, humour and celebration that resides in all of us.
- Written for the launch of a new series of drawings produced for Wood Land School:
Kahatenhstánion tsi na’tetiatere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha / Drawing Lines from January to December
Annie Pootoogook : 1969–2016
by Heather Igloliorte
Annie Pootoogook has passed away. Inuit everywhere in Inuit Nunangat (the four Inuit regions of Canada) mourn her passing, even as we celebrate her life and accomplishments. Pootoogook was a hugely influential artist who forever changed the face of Inuit art. For that, we owe a huge debt to her artistic legacy.
I only met Pootoogook a handful of times during the seven years that I lived in Ottawa. As an Inuk then-grad student studying Inuit art history, I was a little in awe of her fame and talent. Even during our few encounters, I was struck by her kindness and openness.
Judging from the outpouring of grief and remembering across social media this past weekend, many here in southern Canada also feel the same. I join the many voices from across the North and South in offering my sincerest condolences to her family during this difficult time.
I did not know her personally except in the way that we all knew her, through her art. Instead, I have written this short tribute as an Inuk art historian, in recognition of the major and lasting contribution she has made.
Pootoogook’s legacy is significant. She permanently transformed the landscape of Inuit art by breaking through the “ethnic art” glass ceiling and firmly establishing contemporary Inuit art in the mainstream when she won the Sobey Art Award in 2006.
Following an exciting period of exhibitions at Feheley Fine Arts, Pootoogook’s landmark solo exhibition at the Power Plant led to her nomination, and subsequent winning of, the Sobey, catapulting the artist to international fame. This was followed in quick succession by an international residency and inclusion in the Montreal Biennale and Art Basel, all in 2007.
Her stature as an international artist was cemented with her participation in Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany; she was the first Inuit artist ever included. In later years, her work was shown at the National Museum of the American Indian and in the survey exhibition “Oh, Canada” (2014). With her smart, unpretentious drawings, she captured the attention of the international art world and held it for several years, keeping the door open for other Inuit artists to also enter in the process.
Her artwork is thoughtful, humorous, open, satirical, witty and brave. It brought in new audiences, and new understandings of what Inuit art could be, while showing the North to the South in a manner it had never been seen before.
While much has been made of her works that picture alcohol abuse, suicide or domestic violence, for me, the breakthrough was in her revealing interiors and quotidian scenes. Much like her mother Napachie Pootoogook and her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona before her, Annie Pootoogook made work that revealed, in intimate detail, what daily life in the Arctic was like for many across Inuit Nunangat.
Her art challenged viewer expectations of igloos and dog teams and instead revealed our “matchbox” houses, laminate-floored and sparsely decorated; the Northern Store with its refrigerators lined with freezer-burned frozen dinners; the quiet activity of the printshop; or lazy afternoons spent watching trashy daytime television imported from far away. She surprised people with her skillful depictions of mundane objects: a bra, a pair of glasses, a pipe or (my favourite) colourful rows of men’s underwear.
Her images de-exoticized the Arctic. Yet, at the same time, they highlighted how truly great the distance is between the lives of southern Canadians and their neighbours in Inuit Nunangat, and how little the South truly knows about the experience of life in the North. Scenes of cutting up raw char shared on the floor, butchering a whale on the beach, or boiling up seal meat or tea on a Coleman stove in a tent or your living room: these are experiences distinct to the Arctic. Annie Pootoogook showed it all. For this tremendous gift, we should all be grateful.
Heather Igloliorte is an Inuk art historian and curator. She is from Nunatsiavut but currently resides in Montreal, where she is a professor of Aboriginal art history and holds a Concordia University research chair in Indigenous Art History and Community Engagement.
Originally published on canadianart.ca, 27 September 2016