First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 74

REVIEWS CALGARY, ALBERTA Alex Janvier: Modern Indigenous Master Glenbow Museum A LEX JANVIER (Denesuline- Saulteaux) may be best known for whiplash swirls of vivid colors on circular forms; however, this retrospective shows he has never settled into any particular style or approach to painting. Curated by Greg A. Hill (Mohawk) for the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, this exhibition covers 65 years of work. Many of his paintings are created from very thin washes of pigment—acrylic the consistency of watercolor—and in very deliberate, fine lines. In other works he employs wet-on-wet paint strokes, allowing more opaque pigments to bleed together; some are marbled gouache, and a few heavy with impasto oil paint. First Call (2005) depicts a carefully rendered, close-up landscape in watercolor, a dramatic contrast to a completely non-representational work such as Space Zip Code (2001), with explosive acrylic splatters on a brown surface. Whether realistic or abstract, every work has a fascinating backstory. Only select parts of a narrative may be visible, yet Janvier is not deliberately withholding information. He paints to think through and respond to events in his life. One example is a series about his residential school experience. Though he was taken from his family at age eight and sent to Blue Quills Indian Residential School, he also names the principal there as one of the most influential people in his life. Father Etienne Bernet-Rollande brought Janvier to Edmonton to study art with Karl Altenberg, who had trained at the Bauhaus. Apple Factory (1989) is a eulogy to forced assimilation. The composition represents a clash of worlds: Indigenous on the right, with bison and a tipi; Christian colonial on the left, with nuns and uniformed children with short hair. “Apple” became a derogatory term for residential school graduates: red on the outside, white on the inside. Janvier was particularly traumatized by the story of a girl who died at Blue Quills and was shipped home via train in a cardboard box. A faceless girl inside a box appears in several paintings in this series. Na r r at i v e s a n d l a n d s c ap e s intertwine in Wounded Knee Boy (1972), an extraordinarily complex design created from evenly distributed irregular shapes of tan, sea foam green, red, lavender, white, cerulean, and bits of bright yellow. Four feet in diameter, its loaded title references all tragedies at that location, though Janvier dedicated the work to Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Chippewa-Lakota-Dakota). The artist’s home in Northern Alberta, specifically the environment around Cold Lake, inspires all his work. Many paintings suggest maps and aerial views or the quick movement of wind. The True West (1975) incorporates a stylized eagle, bison, coyote, and feather in icy blue 72 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM “It’s time the Indians became the landlords again.” and green hues. Several times Janvier has represented a visual chronology detailing how the land has changed from ancient times to the present. Most prominent of these is a commissioned mural inside the dome of the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec. Morning Star–Gambeh Then’ (1993) was influenced by oral histories of ancestral hunters and trappers, loss of land, and finally, reconciliation. Quotes by the artist were put above paintings in many galleries. One read, “It’s time the Indians became the landlords again.” This was significant at Glenbow because the board at the National Gallery would not allow it at that museum. above Alex Janvier (Denesuline- Saulteaux), Wounded Knee Boy, 1972, acrylic on wood, 48 in. diameter.