Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Coastal Peoples Gallery’ Category

My revived interest in Northwest Coast art dates to nearly two years ago, when I commissioned a copper bracelet from Henry Green. So, naturally, I’ve kept an ongoing interest in what Green was doing – an interest that has been further reinforced by mutual acquaintances and by meeting Green when I was in Terrace for the Freda Diesing School graduation show last April. But, until this last week, I hadn’t bought anything else by Green.

The lack of purchases was definitely not a lack of interest. Although I didn’t realize the fact when I commissioned the bracelet, Green is one of the two leading Tsimshian artists working today (the other is Robert A. Boxley), and probably the premier jeweler. His engraving is exceptionally fine, and his invention is high, although it rarely strays far from tradition.

Moreover, his jewelry is exceptionally well-priced, perhaps because he doesn’t want to set too high a pricing standard for other artists, or perhaps because his income comes largely from poles and large commissions. He could easily get two or three times what he charges, which makes a silver pendant from him one of the best buys you can find in Northwest Coast art. The only real reason for not buying another of his pieces until now was simply that the artists whose work I want to buy far outstrip my income, especially in this last year of recession.

Several months ago at Alano Edzerza’s Gift of the Raven opening, I had seen and appreciated casts of combined pendants and broaches by Green representing some of the Tsimshian house crests. As is inescapable with casts, the pendants suffered from an obvious loss of detail, but I appreciated them all the same. When Morgan Green, Henry’s daughter, sold some to help finance her way through art school (presumably with permission, although I keep have visions of her sneaking into the family workshop at night), we bought a cast of the mosquito pendant from her.

But the cast we really wanted was the devilfish. Consequently, when I stumbled across the engraved original at Coastal People’s, I bought it as soon as I could afford it.

What first struck me about the pendant is its irregular shape. Distorting the design to fit its surface is common in Northwest Coast art, but, in this case (and several of the pendants from the same set), Green has chosen to distort the surface to fit the design. Rather than squeezing the devilfish into an oval or some other pendant shape, he decided instead to let the pendant take the shape of the devilfish instead.

At the same time, within the shape, Green has distorted the shape even though the shape does not require him to. I have seen a number of Northwest Coast designs for a squid or octopus, and almost always they are depicted in a flat, semi-realistic style. However, Green’s tangle of body and tentacles (which are reduced to three, just enough to give a suggestion), although more abstract, captures more of the feel of a devilfish’s irregular movements than a realistic portrayal.

Since the irregular movement is probably what most people see first when they encounter a live octopus or squid (even in a tide pool), the paradox is that Green’s abstraction is emotionally truer than a literal design. Moreover, because the irregular movements are apt to create uneasiness and fear, by capturing the movements, Green’s pendant suggests why a devilfish might become a household crest. With its outsized, eagle-like beak, Green’s devilfish seems a savage predator, powerful and potentially dangerous.

The large areas of cross-hatching and the parallel lines of dots or brief lines are straight from the traditional Tsimshian repertoire. However, in this pendant, Green adapts these elements for practical purposes, using an unusual filling around the eye to give it an unearthly look and turning the parallel lines into suckers on the tentacles.

At the same time, the placement of the tentacles seems to owe more to Celtic knotwork than traditional Tsimshian work. And, in fact, according to Morgan Green, this resemblance is deliberate, reflecting the fact that his first wife was Scottish, and his children are half-Scottish. However, while Don Yeoman and others have tried to combine Northwest Coast and Scottish design in the same piece, this pendant is one of the few that does so successfully. It does so, I think, by balancing the knotwork with the Tsimshian parallel lines and cross-hatched background, blending the two traditions so they work together.

This blending is worth noticing because I think it points to how Green can innovate within his main tradition. Unlike a beginning artist, Green is not restrained by the tradition, forced to alter his design to fit the tradition and therefore chafing at its limitations. Instead, Green is so utterly familiar with the tradition that he can use its elements for his own purposes. In this pendant, the result of his knowledge is a miniature masterpiece in silver.

henry-green-octopus-pendant

Read Full Post »

As I visit Northwest Coast Galleries in Vancouver, I’m starting to notice relations between certain galleries and certain artists. Out of friendship, enthusiasm, long-term business relations, or a combination of all three, some galleries simply carry a better selection of some artists than others.
Here are the specializations I’ve been able to detect so far:

  • Coastal People’s Gallery: This gallery has a good general selection of artists, although it seems to be buying less recently, possibly because it’s overstocked. However, it is the main exhibitor in town of Henry Green, especially for his carved and increasingly colorful panels. Coastal People’s also favors Chester Patrick, a less well-known artist who has done a number of acrylic paintings notable for the complex grouping of characters, as well as panel carving. Since the summer, the gallery’s Gastown store has had space set aside for Patrick to work. I’ve heard at least one patron refer to Patrick as the store’s artist-in-residence, although I don’t know whether the arrangement is formalized.
  • Douglas Reynolds Gallery: Douglas Reynolds seems to have first right of refusal on works by Beau Dick, the Kwaguilth mask-maker and Haida artist Don Yeomans, possibly because the artists have a long friendship with the owner. At any rate, the selection of works by both Dick and Yeomans tends to be larger and more varied than at any other gallery – so much so that, in Yeoman’s case, I tended to think that he was past his creative prime based on his work in other galleries. However, based on what I’ve seen at Douglas Reynolds, that’s far from true; I just wasn’t seeing his best work. This same gallery has also started carrying a good selection of jeweler Gwaii Edenshaw.
  • Edzerza Gallery: As you might expect, this new gallery is mainly a showcase for the work of owner Alano Edzerza. However, it has also had the work of newer artists like Ian Reid and John P. Wilson.
  • Inuit Gallery: The Inuit Gallery seems to have good connection with the North, including Alaska artists like Clarissa Hudson and Norman Jackson, whom many galleries neglect – even though importing First Nations art from the United States is supposed to be duty-free. Recently, it has also had a couple of new masks from Tlingit/ Northern Tutchone artist Eugene Alfred, and a number of playful masks from Kwaguilth carver Simon Dick. Other with whom the gallery seems to have a good relation include Salish artist Jordan Seward and Nuu Chan Nulth artist Les Paul.
  • Sun Spirit Gallery: Located in West Vancouver’s Dundarave strip, this small gallery currently has a strong selection of Klatle-Bhi’s work, particularly masks. Much of this work is in Klatle-Bhi’s apparently favorite white and light-blue palette.
  • Spirit Wrestler Gallery: Robert Davidson seems to offer new works to Spirit Wrestler first, and to have an arrangement with the gallery for prints as well. The gallery also gets the pick of new works by Norman Tait, and currently has more work by Dempsey Bob than any other gallery in town. In addition, the gallery seems to cultivate some of the best of up and coming artists, such as Dean Heron and Sean Hunt, making it more adventuresome that I originally thought from my first visit.

As I was making this list, I realized that it represents my own interests as much as each gallery’s specialization. Very likely, I have left out some specializations either because I am not interested in them or haven’t got around to them yet. Still, it’s useful to know which gallery to go to if you’re interested in a particular artist, so I’ll let the list stand, even while acknowledging that it is probably incomplete.

Read Full Post »

As part of my recently renewed interest in Northwest coast art, I’ve been making the rounds of the local galleries, trying to get a sense of their specialties and whether I want to deal with them. This afternoon, I made the rounds of the Gastown galleries, which are conveniently within a few blocks of each other.

Here are my impressions – partly for my own sake, but also for anyone else who might be interested in Northwest Coast art. I say nothing about the galleries’ Inuit collections, which I am even less qualified to judge:

  • Hill’s Native Art: Coming from the Skytrain, this was the first gallery I came to, and also the one I spent the least time in. It’s basically a high-end tourist shop, and so crowded that the main impression I took away was of art as a commodity. You could probably find some reasonably decent work if you searched, but, you would have to make an effort. Hill’s has a number of two or three meter high totem poles, but if you’re willing to spend over ten thousand, you would be better off spending a little more and buying one from a name artist elsewhere.
  • Spirit Wrestler Gallery: With over two decades of experience and a number of well-regarded shows and books behind it, Spirit Wrestler is at the opposite extreme from Hill’s, appealing to the serious collector with money to invest in art. Its selection of artists is small, but carefully chosen, and it has a varied selection of work from top artists such as Robert Davidson, Norman Tait, and Susan Point. Currently, it has more Tlingit work than any other gallery that I’ve seen, and a small but select collection of bracelets. The gallery also sells (but does not always display) pieces that have just come upon the market again, so a serious collector might want to keep in touch to hear what is available. The gallery also contains a few Maori works, which should interest many people who have a passion for Northwest Coast art, since the two cultures have a lot of similarities. It’s perhaps the premier gallery in the field in Vancouver, and deservedly so.
  • Inuit Gallery of Vancouver: This gallery has no more than a fifth of its space devoted to Northwest Coast art. It does not carry jewelry, but does include a collection of Northwest Coast masks and prints, as well as some other forms of carving mostly from the Nuu-chah-nulth and Salish nations. Although the selection of artists is comparatively small, you can find some interesting pieces without searching hard.
  • Coastal Peoples Gallery: In many ways, Coastal Peoples is the most interesting of the galleries in Vancouver. In both its Yaletown and Gastown locations, it carries everything from high-end tourist pieces to work that will appeal to museums and connoisseurs. To make things even more interesting, Coastal Peoples has by far the broadest range of artists of the four galleries mentioned here, with up-and-coming artists as well as established ones represented. The newer artists are especially interesting if you have any understanding of what you are buying, because their work is reasonably priced and some of it will undoubtedly rise rapidly in value. The jewelry on display is especially fine, especially in gold, and so is the sculpture, including everything from desktop pieces to bentwood boxes and three meter poles. The sheer variety at Coastal People’s is amazing, and is one of the reasons why the gallery is my current favorite.

There are, of course, other galleries that carry Northwest Coast art outside of Gastown in Vancouver. But they will be a subject for another day.

Read Full Post »