A clutch of smiling owlets, a great whale, a diving seal and a harried mother polar bear attempting to corral her two young cubs are all part of an exhibition at Canada House Gallery to honour one of Arctic Canada’s most renowned graphic artists.
The exhibit of work by famed Inuit artist Kananginak Pootoogook, who died in November last year of lung cancer in an Ottawa hospital at the age of 75, is to honour an artist whose work has been part of Canada House’s repitoire for the past two decades.
The 32 pieces of work includes coloured pencil and pen drawings, lithographs, carvings, stonecut stencil prints and glass panels commissioned exclusively for Canada House, all featuring Pootoogook’s remarkable style, infused with grace, humour and an understanding of wildlife that led him to be called the ‘Audubon of the North’.
Pootoogook was a driving force behind Inuit art as a whole and the Cape Dorset print studio, participating in the first release of Cape Dorset prints in 1959, and as a result, gallery owner Barbara Pelham said, his death is a significant loss for the Baffin Island community of Cape Dorset.
“Kananginak was a mainstay in the community. He was really a great diplomat and was able to offer a lot of guidance to the whole community. It is a tremendous loss,” she said.
Since participating in the release of the Cape Dorset prints he continued to be one of the studio’s driving forces and one of its prominent and prolific artists.
And the Canada House exhibition, which brings together drawings, prints and sculptures, is a way to honour the artist and the art forms he cared so much about.
“We brought together a beautiful collection of original drawings and some older graphics that we were able to locate,” Pelham said.
So far, she said, the response to the exhibit has been strong, with the gallery accepting reservations on pieces until Jan. 21 when the sale begins at 10 a.m.
“We are pleased that respect is there. That people acknowledge that this is an artist of significance and that makes us feel proud,” she said.
Pootoogook’s work can be found in numerous collections and exhibitions across Canada. He was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts in 1980 and awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Arts in 2010.
But as artists like Pootoogook reach the end of their lives, Inuit art, which has not remained static, will continue to change as younger artists fill the roles their elders once held.
“I think Inuit art is on the cusp of transition in terms of the senior artists. Their days are really special. Within five years, the face of Inuit art in Canada is going to change significantly. Within five to 10 years,” Pelham said.
“When anchor artists like these pass, the younger generation is really going to step in and take off with things; it will really change the work and the esthetic, the stories and all of these things.”
And with that comes an exiting future for Inuit art.
“We know what the last 50 years has been with artwork coming from Dorset, but we really don’t know what the next 50 years will look like. It’s unpredictable, which is partly why people are beginning to standup and look and watch,” Pelham said.
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