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Archive for the ‘Edzerza Gallery’ Category

I have two great weakness when buying Northwest Coast art: I love to see artists trying out new media, and I love work that shows the lesser-known figures of mythology. With these preferences, it seems inevitable that I would have bought Morgan Green’s Mouse Woman platter.

Morgan Green is a twenty-five year old artist who seems to be in the middle of deciding what art she wants to do. She is represented in the galleries mostly by her painted leather cuffs, but she has also done fashion design, carved masks and poles, and assisted older artists with painting and metal casting. Add an art teacher and potter for a mother and master carver Henry Green for a father, and it is no wonder that she always seems to be galloping off in all directions (in fact, every time I’ve met or contacted her, she seems about to be preparing for a journey or just returned from one).

The Mouse Woman platter is one of several pieces of ceramics that Green is exhibiting at the Edzerza Gallery. Made from clay that Green recently brought back from Arizona, it is as untraditional as a Northwest Coast piece can be. Ceramics were not a part of the northern coast first nation cultures, and, unlike argillite a century ago or glass in recent decades, have never really caught on, although you can find occasional pieces – usually not very skilled and mostly for the tourist trade.

As for Mouse Woman herself, she remains a bit of a mystery. Few, if any renditions of her survive. But the stories make her a powerful, although minor character. She generally appears as a helper of a hero in a quest. In several tales, for instance, a hero helps a mouse over a log, and then, that evening, comes to a long-house where he is greeted by a noble woman who feasts him and gives him good advice. In other tales, she whispers practical advice about everyday concerns that the hero passes on to his people. In many ways, she is all that Raven is not: domestic where he is a wanderer, a maintainer and restorer of order where he is a bringer of chaos and change, and a representative of civilization where he is the eternal outsider. Where Raven is often a child, she is more often described as a grandmother, perhaps an elder.

Since no one is quite sure what Mouse Woman is supposed to look like, in depicting her, Green is free to let her imagination run wild. She chooses a simple design that goes well the rough, terra-cotta background – a combination that vaguely suggests petroglyphs, an art form that flourished several centuries before the northern formline became codified. Most of the lines are thin, except for those associated with what Green presumably intends as Mouse Woman’s distinguishing characteristics: her incisors, round eyes and ears. For these features, the lines are heavy, giving them added prominence, and elevating them to the equivalent of the orca’s fin or the eagle’s hooked beak – the features that tell you what creature is intended even if the complete shape is not depicted.

The result is a fragile but alert-looking creature, with ovoids that suggest cheeks stuffed with food. The result is a surprisingly naturalistic figure of a mouse, that, at the same time, also suggests a tiny but alert and active grandmother. How artists of a century and a half ago might have depicted Mouse Woman remains unknown, but I’m sure that they would recognize instantly the subject of Green’s depiction.

I don’t know whether Green will continue working with ceramics. Considering her restlessness, my guess is that she won’t for the time being, although she may return to them eventually. But I suspect that her recent YVR scholarship couldn’t have come at a better time. The Mouse Woman platter is a minor piece (in scope, I mean; at twenty-five centimeters it is definitely not so in size), but it suggests to me an artist who is starting to find the themes that interest her.

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Last night, I was at the reception for Tahltan artist Alano Edzerza’s new exhibit, “Gift of the Raven.” The show features Edzerza’s work of the last six months. Also on display were a number of pieces by Morgan Green, a recent recipient of the YVR Art Foundation Scholarship and (as she may be tired of hearing) the daughter of Tsimshian master carver Henry Green.

The evening started with a performance of “Raven Steals the Light” by Victor Reece’s Big Sky Multi-Media Storytelling Society. The performance was held in the courtyard of the Waterfall Building, the complex in which the Edzerza Gallery is located. It featured a dancer with suitably nervous bird-like movements and a light mask with mirrors for eyes, and ended with him climbing to an overhead walkway to conclude the performance – all in all, a successful blending of the traditional and the contemporary.

Then, the crowd squeezed inside the gallery for the viewing.

The show did not include any new traditional style work by Edzerza. Otherwise, it was a good representation of the different strains in his work. My main problem was dodging the crowd and finding gaps in it that lasted long enough to snap a picture. Combined with the fact that some paintings were hung high, the result is pictures that are less than professional quality (to say the least), but should give some idea of what was on display.

In one corner of the front of the gallery was a collection of Edzerza’s glass boxes:

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Elsewhere, you could see some of his experiments with color, such as this collection of closeups of traditional formline designs done in the electric colors of pop-art on a back wall:

alano-colors

The same pop-art sensibility appeared in a couple of contemporary paintings of frogs, which were inspired, I am told, by a tattoo on a woman’s back:

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But the major works in the exhibit were the multi-panel ones, like this one that was hung near the ceiling, facing the door:

alano-orca-multi

Another orca design, a triptych, was hung just inside the door, and a triptych featuring ravens on the back wall. The raven triptych was especially dramatic, as one of its panel shows:

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All these multi-panel works shared features that are characteristic of Edzerza’s work: A three-dimensional contemporary take on traditional Northwest Coast designs, an experiment with color in mainly grayscale designs, and a dramatic sense of movement that is enhanced by the separate canvases and draws your eyes from one to the next.

Morgan Green is not as an experienced an artist as Edzerza, but, in the last year, her work has matured quickly. Previously, the work by Green that I knew best were her leather cuffs and a somewhat over-ornate wolf helmet in the gallery, but the works I saw last night shows some other sides to her work, and an interest in different media that, if anything, is even greater than Edzerza’s.

Green’s works included a wall hanging and a variety of earth-colored ceramics inspired by a recent trip to Arizona and the First Nations work she saw there. A plate depicting Mouse Woman was particularly striking:

morgan-green-mouse-woman-plate

So far as I know, no historical depictions of Mouse Woman survive. But Green’s rendering seems a reasonable one, with features like the ears, the round eyes and the incisors providing the defining features that you would expect in a traditional design. At the same time, placing the design on grainy ceramic creates a pictograph-like effect, all the more so because the formline is hinted at more than fully realized.

Perhaps the most accomplished work by Green on display was a Dogfish Woman robe she had created for an elder. The design was fairly standard (that is to say, more or less a descendant of Charles Edenshaw’s sketch via Bill Reid), but the cutting of the design and the assembly of the robe made for a first rate piece of work. As Green was discussing it with some of the guests, one of them agreed to model it:

morgan-green-dogfish-woman-robe

The evening was a fund-raiser, with a quarter of all sales going to the Vancouver Foundation. How successful the evening was a fund-raiser, I didn’t ask. But from the perspective of spotlighting two promising young artists, no one could have asked for more. I came away from the evening with increased respect for both, and an even greater determination to watch and enjoy their future growth.

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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.

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One of the pleasures of buying art is the thought that you might recognize a young artist before anyone else. The pleasure is not in the fact that the piece increases in value, but in the knowledge that you recognized excellence before anyone else. Currently, buying a print in Northwest Coast art by Robert Davidson or Susan Point requires no special insight – the excellence of both has been well-established for years. By contrast, when Trish and I purchased an acrylic copy of Alano Edzerza’s “The Thief” today, we were taking a gamble.

However, it’s a gamble that we are sure will prove our foresight as Edzerza’s career continues to flourish.

Under thirty, Edzerza is an artist who is beginning to make himself known, especially in glass, graphics, and large scale installations in businesses and offices. Unlike most artists, he also knows the business side of art, and few other artists are in so many galleries, or can boast so many shows so early in their careers.

Last summer, he also became owner of the Edzerza Gallery, which showcases both his work and pieces by other up and coming actions, making him one of the only First Nations artists to run a commercial gallery. I know of several young artists who hope that he will provide a fairer deal than other galleries, and at least one who believes that he does.

I have heard one person denigrate Edzerza for producing giclee prints, as though running off prints from the computer was an abomination rather than a convenience.

More tellingly, I have seen lines in several other people’s artwork pointed out to me that Edzerza might have copied. However, if that is so, the practice is common enough among young artists. Even such an icon as Bill Reid borrowed and imitated at the start of his career, and nothing is wrong with the practice so long as an artist eventually outgrows it.

A more valid criticism is that Edzerza’s imagination is still more two-dimensional than three-dimensional, to judge by his jewelry; not that anything is wrong with his jewelry except that it is not at the same level as his graphics or glass work. Just as importantly, he is also still mastering color, tending to use only one per work.

But, at the same time, Edzerza already shows an exceptional sense of design and a strength of line in his works. Not only are his works effective compositions, but, at least twice, he has found new pieces in closeups of existing works. He simply has an eye for design, and, with this trait, I have few doubts that his limitations will cease to exist in the next few years.

It helps that he seems to have a curiosity and memory for design. The one time I met him, he seemed very current about what other artists were doing, and the way he studied the Henry Green bracelet I was wearing when I passed it to him suggests a capacity to learn.

Just as importantly, Edzerza has an eye for drama, tending to show figures in motions rather than static ones. For instance, in depicting the over-used story of how Raven stole the light, in “Smoke Hole,” he focuses on Raven erupting from the smoke hole, charred and on fire. The result is one of the most arresting retellings of that myth that I have ever seen, because he has chosen a dramatic moment to represent.

Although I find graphics like “Smoke Hole” and “Think Like a Raven” powerful, we chose to buy the acrylic of “The Thief” because we believe that it has the potential to be a breakthrough piece for Edzerza. Even if it is not, it is still one of the most effective piece that he has done in a career that already does not lack for highlights.

“The Thief” is another depiction of the Raven engaged in stealing the light. However, unusually in Edzerza’s work, it is a still and formal piece. Almost a mask, it shows the child that the Raven has transformed himself into in order to accomplish the theft, surrounded by the body of the bird that he really is. But a hint of Edzerza’s characteristic drama rests in the enigmatic smile of the child, which – unlike the sleepy eyes — is not only decidedly not innocent, but mirrored by the raven’s beak above it. The disturbing smile suggests the theft that is about to happen or is in the process of happening.

Like much of Edzerza’s latest work, “The Thief” is in grayscale. However, there are more shades within “The Thief” than in any other of Edzerza’s works that I have seen. I strongly suspect that “The Thief” is a study in chromatic complexity, and (whether he knows it or not), one of the first steps that may eventually lead to a richer use of color in his future works.

Even if it doesn’t, grayscale is a fascinating world of its own, as anyone who has ever worked in black and white photography can tell you. In “The Thief”’s case, the color palette suggests the moon, which, depending on the version of the myth, is either what Raven steals, or else soon results from his theft. Especially in the acrylic version, the composition has something of the rich sheen of argillite – and, although argillite is generally worked by the Haida, rather than by a Tahltan like Edzerza, the resemblance suggests a carving as much as a graphic. This impression is heightened by the position of the raven’s head over the child’s forehead, an arrangement often seen with transformation figures on masks. Could Edzerza also be using grayscale and the illusion of depth it creates as an exercise to improve his three-dimensional imagination?

Whatever exactly Edzerza was intending, “The Thief” remains the best northwest coast composition I’ve seen this year. It’s a contemporary piece, while remaining firmly rooted in tradition. I am proud to be one of its custodians, and look forward to ferreting out its secrets in the coming years. And if Edzerza becomes as well known as I suspect he might, I will be just as proud to loan it for the inevitable retrospective on his career, when it is recognized as a pivotal moment in his career.
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This weekend, I scouted the Northwest Coast galleries around the south end of the Granville Bridge. Here are my impressions:

  • Eagle Spirit Gallery: Located on the edge of Granville Island, this gallery is one of the pleasanter viewing areas that I’ve seen, with lots of natural light and indirect sun. It seems aimed at the corporate or public buyer rather than the individual, with many larger-than-life plaques, masks, and sculptures. Its selection includes some of Robert Davidson’s recent sculptures (which you don’t see much of), as well as works by Lyle Campbell, but, for me, Francis Horne, Sr.’s “Spirit Raven” was the only really exceptional piece. Even browsing casually, I saw a surprising lack of finishing detail on some pieces, including some by artists whose work is usually more polished. In general, the selection seemed a little too safe for my taste.
  • Edzerza Gallery: I discovered this gallery by accident, occupying the space that used to be occupied by the Bentbox Gallery, a block from Granville Island. Owned by the young artist Alano Edzerza, it displays mostly his prints and jewelry, but includes selected pieces from up and coming artists. For a young artist, running your own gallery seems a daring move, but, I’m proof that it pays off, since it means that I noticed Edzerza’s work for the first time, and he’s now on my list of artists whose work I want to buy. While I was there, I also met another artist whose work I admire. The selection is relatively small, but I am sure that I’ll be coming back, both to support the venture and to buy.
  • Latimer Gallery: A block from the Edzerza Gallery, the Latimer features moderately priced limited edition prints, masks, and jewelry I remember this gallery as being more touristy than it was today, so either my memory is faulty or else its stock has gone upscale a little. I had no trouble finding some small treasures, including some old Bill Reid prints, and some very affordable crayon sketches by Beau Dick. I don’t think I’ll be a frequent visitor at the Latimer Gallery, but I will be dropping by now and then to check what they have.
  • Douglas Reynolds Gallery: Located in gallery row a block up from the south end of the bridge, this shop is aimed at the high end of the market. Besides the inevitable Robert Davidson and Susan Point prints, it includes a number of masks by Beau Dick, and at least two striking wall plaques by Don Yeomans. It also includes a selection of gold and silver bracelets, rings, and earrings, including a few small pieces by Gwaai Edenshaw. The stock seemed a little safe to me, but was adventurous enough here and there to make me want to return occasionally.
  • There are still Northwest Coast galleries I haven’t visited in Vancouver, but these four, together with the ones I visited last week in Gastown, are some of the better known ones. Besides finding which galleries seemed right for my own art buying, visiting a number of them has helped me to understand the market a bit better, including such as who are the established and upcoming artists, and what are the going prices for each artists’ work. This knowledge makes my visits well worth the effort, especially since you can easily see a number of galleries in an afternoon without doing much travelling.

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