First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 66

PROFILE MOOSE CREE INSTALLATION ARTIST, PAINTER, AND SCULPTOR QUINN SMALLBOY By Matthew Ryan Smith, PhD Q UINN SMALLBOY is a visual artist born in Moose Factory, Ontario, and a member of Moose Cree First Nation. Now based in London, Ontario, Smallboy completed his MFA at Western University and in 2004 received a diploma in multimedia and production design from Fanshawe College. Currently his artistic prac- tice investigates what it means to be a “contemporary Indigenous artist”— specifically, he questions how customary symbols and icons of Indigenous culture translate into painting, sculpture, and installation. Colored string has long been Smallboy’s primary material. Fascinated by its metaphorical and physical poten- tial, he uses string to piece together old memories of home, his family, and the land. In this sense, string separates time and space while simultaneously bringing it together. Smallboy’s work resides in several public and private collections and he has exhibited in art galleries and museums including McIntosh Gallery, Woodland Cultural Centre, and DNA Art Gallery. Smallboy’s work is part of the exhibition The Living River Project: Art, Water, and Possible Worlds at the Art Gallery of Windsor, showing through January 20, 2019. This exhibition explores the impact of water issues in the Windsor- Detroit corridor. I spoke with Quinn Smallboy during the installation of his latest project. MRS: Thank you very much for speaking with me, Quinn. We’ve known each other for several years, but I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with you in depth about your art. Let’s start with a discussion about Moose Factory since memory seems to be a central facet of your work. How did the community and your family living there shape your choice of becoming an artist? QS: I definitely have to thank two of my uncles, Stanley and Jack Smallboy, for inspiring me to create art when I was around twelve years old. My Uncle Stanley made woodcarvings and my Uncle Jack used soapstone to carve sculptures. That being said, the biggest push into my artistic development would have to be with Uncle Jack and his series of drawings. I remember after seeing his drawings I wanted to be like him and do the same. So, you can say it all started for me with drawing. Drawing is the foundation of my practice. You moved from Moose Factory to London, Ontario, over 15 years ago to pursue a career in multimedia and production design. Can you talk a little about this experience? Does your design work cross over into your visual arts practice? If so, how does that translate? 64 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM Design and computers always interested me. The experience of leaving Moose Factory to pursue design was exciting and a little overwhelming—my home- town is quite small in population as compared to a large city like London. I knew it would be challenging in terms of “Can I do this and not fail?” Add to this the fact that my family is quite far away, and travel can be costly. The importance of family support is huge. I believe if it wasn’t for two of my aunts, Grace and Lillian Smallboy, who moved to London years ago, I think things would have been a little different for me, and I could have moved back home. But with them living in London and with their support, I often visit their homes and receive words of encouragement, which makes my decision better to handle. Anyway, my design work doesn’t really cross over that much. For example, when doing website designs including mock-ups or logo creation work, I concentrate more on what looks good, the fluidity of the work. One aspect of my design work is that I tend to lean more toward the “less is more” ideal route. I’m concerned with the minimalism of typography, a play with white space. Much of your early work includes paintings of sites and events from Northern Ontario, like fishing boats, windy, winter landscapes, and quiet lakes. They’re not large in scale, which makes them appear almost as frag- ments of memory. What was it that first drew you to painting? Although I have always been inter- ested in drawing as an emerging artist, painting was something I wanted to try out and see where it went. I still feel like I need to paint sometimes. What I get