I “sit with elders of a gentle race…”

Years ago, when my husband played me the Led Zepplin song Kashmir, he pointed out this line and, forever after, it has called to my soul.

Each time I’ve heard it since, I’ve longed to “…. sit with elders of a gentle race,” and it dawned on me last week that indeed I was having the wonderful opportunity to do just that. I was going to have lunch with Katie Ohe and Harry Kiyooka at their house – the house west of Calgary they’re converting to an art centre named KOAC.

Silkscreen print 2019, Flot (french word)

In fact, I was having lunch with them for the second day in a row. Every year Katie generously invites me to use her printing studio to create my annual silkscreen print, and I so look forward to those times shared with them. They truly are elders of a gentle race, artistic geniuses, trailblazers of Alberta’s art world and genuinely caring people. Together they combine more than 130 years of artistic experience, so you might assume this would make them unapproachable. In fact, the opposite is true. They became artists because their urge to create is visceral. They have spent their lives devoted to that passion and to sharing it with the people who cross their paths.

As Jeff Bray, a brilliant multi-disciplinary artist from Calgary, says “When Katie holds both your hands in hers and talks to you, you feel like you are the only person in the world.” In truth, Katie makes each one of us feel that way. Her boundless passion for the process of creating art is only matched by her passion for sharing with others. Her warmth, her experience, her skill, her ideas, her process, and her curiosity is always in trade for yours.

 

 

The Esker Foundation in Calgary is presenting a retrospective exhibition of Katie’s formidable life’s work from January 25 to May 3rd 2020. In their words, “For over 60 years, Katie Ohe has been a catalysing force in Calgary’s art community as an artist, mentor, teacher, supporter, and builder. As one of Alberta’s most important artistic figures, she has made a significant contribution to the development of contemporary art in the province and her innovative approaches to material, form, movement, and participation have been a meaningful influence for generations. This eponymous exhibition—her largest and most comprehensive solo exhibition to date—traces the development of work through six decades of Ohe’s remarkable sculptural practice.” I can’t wait to see this fabulous collection in the Esker’s beautiful exhibition space!

Simultaneously, you can see a selection of hers and of her husband Harry’s early work at the Herringer Kiss Gallery in Calgary.

Katie has shared so much of her wisdom with so many of us over the years, and I am truly grateful. Every day, as I push through the challenges of being an artist, her precious words come to me and reassure me that all is as it should be.

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A road trip to visit ALEX JANVIER’s studio

Alex Janvier’s work is at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary for the summer (June 16 to September 9). It is a major retrospective featuring over 100 remarkable paintings and drawings.  Here is all about my Janvier road trip!

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Alex Janvier, “Tribute to Beaver Hills,” Strathcona County Hall, Sherwood Park, Alberta, photo credit Corinne Dickson

When I asked Corinne “Would you like to come along with me on a road trip to visit Alex Janvier, one of my mentors?” I may have fudged the details a little. Perhaps I neglected to say that we’d have to drive six hours to get to his studio in Cold Lake… at the end of the highway… on the far north-east side of Alberta. And maybe I forgot to mention that Alex Janvier doesn’t actually know he’s my mentor. And I’m pretty sure he’d never heard of me. But nonetheless, Alex Janvier influences every stroke of my paintbrush.

Just look at his work: it flows with life! Somehow, the movements of colour take you into his visual world where a narrative takes place, and I’m both charmed and intrigued every time I see his work. But mostly I’m inspired to reach beyond my grasp toward that level of narrative in my own work. So yes, Alex Janvier is definitely my mentor – whether he knows it or not.

At his Gallery, nestled into the forest by the Lake, we had the chance to hang out with a large number of pieces and to flip through his new work. I’m impressed by how he remains, in his old age, a very strong and very prolific painter. His new work has lost none of the energy of his earlier compositions.

Janvier, born in 1935, is of Dene Suline and Saulteaux heritage. He was raised by his loving family until, at the age of eight, he was uprooted and sent to the Blue Quills Indian Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. But because he had always been a highly imaginative child, the school gave him the tools he needed to create his first paintings and the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to graduate with honours from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary where he developed a unique and recognizable style with influences from his mother’s and other relatives’ beadwork and bark basket-making. And his recent retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa  has made it clear to all Canadians that Janvier is among the leaders of a small group of masterful Indigenous contemporary painters who have built and maintained successful lifelong careers.

His career didn’t come without sacrifice, however. We spent about two hours with his wife Jaqueline and she told us that together they had raised six children and that some of those years were very lean. “So,” she said, “when money came in, I filled up the freezer with meat to make sure we could survive the next lean time.”
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Me laying on ‘Tsa tsa ke k’e’, Rogers Place in Edmonton, photo credit Corinne Dickson

On our way home we stopped three times to admirer some of his public art. The most recent one is at Rogers Place in Edmonton. It’s a 14-metre diameter tile installation set into the floor of Ford Hall titled ‘Tsa tsa ke k’e’ or ‘Iron Foot Place’. I’m told it took 20 staff members six months to install the million byzantine glass tiles of the mosaic that depicts the natural beauty of the Edmonton landscape, and I’m confident that it will remain central to the soul of the city, its Indigenous and non-Indigenous history, its lands and its waters.
Six long hours home, filled with much conversation about our own careers as artists, inevitably led both Corinne and me to our own soul searching. How will we look back at our own careers in 50 years? Does Alex Janvier feel he has accomplished what he set out to do? Or is he surprised when he looks back at the work he’s compiled? Has he realized his narrative goals?
Being artists, we suspect that he knows how hard he worked and how focused and committed he has been to achieve such acclaim. And having seen his new work, we also suspect that his mind is on his next project; it never settles on past accomplishments. For creative junkies like Alex Janvier, there will never be enough time. And the next creative endeavor will always be more interesting than the ones already realized.
Corinne and I agreed. This is, indeed, a life worth living.

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