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Archive for the ‘Wayne Young’ Category

Every piece of art, several collectors have told me, comes with a story. Gradually, as I’ve bought art, I realized that this statement is true, so on my spreadsheet for insurance purposes, I’ve created a column where I can type the story of how the piece was acquired.

I have no trouble remembering the first piece of serious art I bought. It was a three inch copper bracelet by Tsimshian artist Henry Green. I’d wanted such a piece for years, and suddenly realized I could afford one. I still remember my breathlessness as I approached the gallery to pick it up, and my sigh of relief when it proved more awe-inspiring than I could ever have hoped.

A couple of months later, I saw that the Bill Reid Gallery was selling canvas banners from a set that had been stored in Bill Reid’s house since 1991. Trish and I bought one, realizing that it was our best chance of affording any work by Bill Reid, then quickly bought another to balance the wall where the first one hung. Soon after, we bought our first mask, a moon by Ron Telek that is both eerie and strangely modernistic.

More soon followed. There was a Beau Dick sketch of a mask, unusual in that, with his carver’s eye, he depicted planes, not lines. The Lyle Wilson pendant Trish won in a raffle at an exhibit – the best $5 that either of us had ever spent. The small Telek mask that I fetched from the South Terminal of the Vancouver airport by walking from the end of the bus line and back again. The Gwaii Edenshaw gold rings we bought for our anniversary. The miniature argillite transformation mask by Wayne Young that I trekked over to Victoria for after Trish’s death and repaired and remounted because it was so magnificently unique. The wall-hanging commissioned by Morgan Green to help her through goldsmith school. And so the stories accumulate, so far as I’m concerned, as innate as the aesthetics of the piece.

For instance, there’s Mitch Adam’s “Blue Moon Mask,” which I saw in 2010 at the Freda Diesing School’s year end exhibit. It was labeled NFS, bound for the Spirit Wrestler show for the school’s graduates a month later. I happened to mention to Mitch that I would have written a cheque right away had it been for sale – not hinting, just praising – and a few hours later he came back and said the piece was mine if I were still interested. I was, and immediately became the envy of half a dozen other people who also wanted to buy it, but had never had the luck to ask. One of them still talks enviously when we meet.

Then there’s Shawn Aster’s “Raven Turns the Crows Black,” a painting that we had discussed in 2009, but didn’t seem to gel in his mind. After a year, I had stopped expecting him to finish it, and took to calling him a promising artist, because he kept saying that he was still working on it. But he did complete it – making it a Chilkat design (which I had not expected), and showing a promise of a different kind.

Two other pieces were commissions in memory of Trish after her death: John Wilson’s “Needlewoman” and Mike Dangeli’s “Honoring Her Spirit.” I made “Needlewoman” a limited edition of twenty, and gave it to family members for Christmas 2010. Mike’s painting, more personal, I kept for myself, carrying it up Commercial Drive from Hastings Street on a chilly January Sunday, because cabs wouldn’t come to the Aboriginal Friendship Center where I picked it up.

Other pieces were gifts from friends: a print of “January Moon” by Mitch Adams in return for some advice on galleries I gave him; a bentwood box Mitch Adams made and John Wilson carved and painted in memory of Trish; a remarque of Ron Telek’s “Sirens” print, and an artist’s proof by John Wilson and another print by Shawn Aster, both apologies for the late delivery of other pieces.

Of course, such stories mean that I can never sell any of the pieces I buy. The associations have become too much a part of me. But since I never buy to invest, only to appreciate, that is no hardship – my appreciation is only deeper for the personal connections.

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Ten years ago, Wayne Young was a promising journeyman in Northwest Coast art. Taught by such well-known figures as Dempsey Bob and Robert and Norman Tait, he had an enviable reputation for imaginative, often asymmetrical designs, and for fine finishing details on his carving. Now, however, illness keeps him from working. Since new works from him seem unlikely, when I first noticed this miniature argillite transformation mask of a raven and a human on the Alcheringa Gallery web site two years ago, I was immediately interested in buying it.

Not only was I interested in the artist, but I figured that the piece had to be one of a kind. I mean, a mask not only made of argillite, but with two faces? And one no more than fifteen centimeters long and six high? The thick hinges that the outer face swings upon and the fine screws drilled into the argillite are evidence of the difficulty in the construction – and also all the explanation necessary of why no one else is likely to try to imitate the piece.

However, obtaining the piece proved a challenge. When I visited the gallery fifteen months ago, none of the staff knew where it was. In fact, despite the fact it was still on the web site, they could never remember seeing it, and were sure it must be lost. However, three months ago, I queried again. This time, the gallery director answered, and could locate it.

Ordinarily, I don’t haggle over price. However, ten months previous, the mask had been part of an on-site auction, with a quick price that was two-thirds the listed price. Since the gallery had had the piece for seven years, I sensed it might be eager to sell it, so I offered the quick price. It was accepted, and I took a day trip to Victoria primarily to carry it safely home.

I declined the frame and beige and brown matting the gallery had added. I thought the frame did not do the mask justice; I am currently awaiting an argillite stand to display it properly.

Unfortunately, too, time has not been kind to the piece. Another artist who remembers seeing the piece when it was new remembers the outer mask closing evenly. Now, one hinge is slightly twisted, and one side of the mask is lower than the other when closed. A drop of glue on a couple of the screws might be useful, too, and perhaps a replacement of the black cord on the controls.

However, despite these imperfections, I consider the mask well worth having. The carving is simpler than most of Young’s work, but the lines need to be bold on a piece of such minute dimensions if they are to be discernible. Finer lines would be nearly invisible, and therefore wasted – nor would argillite lend itself to them. The fact that Young knew the restrictions of the size and the medium says a lot about his skill as an artist.

I could almost believe that Young deliberately set out to challenge himself by putting obstacles in his own path. If he didn’t, he must have soon discovered them. But, either way, he overcame the obstacles, not with inlays and other distractions, but with a well-designed, cleanly carved, understated bit of excellence. I consider myself lucky to have obtained it, and my only regret is that new pieces from Young are unlikely.

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When I wandered into the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria on a day off, I really wasn’t planning to buy another piece of art. My official excuse was to see the gallery’s “More Than Meets the Eye” show, which included a recent piece by John Wilson, and a twenty-five year old piece by Ron Telek. But when I saw an artist’s proof of Wayne Young’s “Wolf Clan,” a purchase was more or less inevitable.

For one thing, Wayne Young is an artist on my short list. Having learned his craft under Dempsey Bob and his uncles Robert and Norman Tait, like his cousin Ron Telek, Young displays in his work all the characteristics you would expect – imagination, a strong sense of line, and careful attention to finishing – while still managing to display a distinctive style of his own. One of his prints at the Alcheringa Gallery was one of the few renditions of Dogfish Woman that didn’t descend from Charles Edenshaw’s sketch via Bill Reid. Another print that I saw at the same time showed Raven and the First People without being dependent on Bill Reid’s monumental work; in fact, unless I miss my guess, it shows a mussel or a chiton rather than a clam shell.

Just as importantly, something that always fascinates me about Northwest Coast art is how the design is rearranged and constrained by the surface it is on. A flat design can be wrapped around the handle of a ladle, for instance, or rearranged to fit into a round panel. The challenge to the eye is to pick out the details of the design and identify it while enjoying the intricacy.

In the case of “Wolf Clan,” the shape of the design is reminiscent of an argillite pipe. The compressed space contains three wolves, two full sized and one small one, perhaps a cub. Of the small one, only the head can be identified for sure, although perhaps its body and legs are to the right of it or to the left across the two central S-curves. Possibly, it is a killer whale, representing a clan related to the wolves. The wolves on the end show few clear signs of their bodies, with most of the space given to their heads and tails, and, on the left, a single paw.

What is mildly unusual for Northwest Coast art is that it is asymmetrical, with all three heads both facing the same way, and the right side of the share by two of the heads. The two S-shaped areas in the middle – at least one of which is a tail, and possibly both – also create the optical illusion that one side is shorter than the other. However, which one seems shorter depends on which S-shaped area you focus on, and measurement proves that the two halves are about the same length.

Notice, too, the variation of repeated elements, such as the eyes and pupils of the heads, and the secondary elements that surround the head and eye. Even the teeth vary, with the wolf on the left sporting an incisor and the one on the right none. The small head, by contrast, actually seems to have incisors that curl up In much the same way, the stripes on the tail vary as well. Since contemporary design is asymmetrical, the overall impression is of a modern sensibility, even though all the elements, taken one at a time, are traditional.

Even more unusual is the extraordinary variation in the thickness of the formline, ranging from the thick lines of the wolf snouts and heads to the pen-thickness of the outline of the tail in the middle, and the extreme tapering of some of the secondary elements where they join another line. This variation gives “Wolf Clan” a certain angularity, despite the roundness and the sweeping curves throughout the design. The variety also makes a sense of constrained motion in the design, moving the eye along one line until it catches the next one.

“Wolf Clan” is a small piece but it shows all the strengths of Wayne Young’s work. I have noticed recently that we have a disproportionate amount of Nisga’a works among our purchases, probably because of the bold simplicity that features in that nation’s traditional designs. To that tradition, “Wolf Clan” adds an intricacy that I’m sure will intrigue me for years to come.

wolf-clan-lo-res

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