The Creation Story, Ronald Kok, 2017, Oil Pastels
There are times you just start drawing and something completely unexpected emerges.
Today I share with you my latest artwork which I’ve titled “The Creation Story”. It began as me drawing a tree but a tree with human figures as the foliage. I’m not sure why I did that. The truth is that there often is no clear explanation for decisions you make as you’re creating something. It can make this whole art endeavor kind of freaky but also liberating and full of serendipity.
As I was completing the figures, adding color to them and defining them better with dark lines, the piece started to remind me of some of my favorite art from some Indigenous Canadian artists, specifically Marion Tuu’luuq and Norval Morrisseau. In keeping with that idea, I began to see this piece as telling a foundational story, maybe a Creation Story from some long-lost civilization. So often in the creation stories of indigenous cultures, the concept of spirit and earth are intertwined. I really love that. There is no stark divide between divine things and carnal things.
When these thoughts occurred to me, the earth in quasi-earthworm shapes and sky in quasi-bird shapes came to be. I was trying to get at that concept of mortality and earthiness as impossible to disconnect from eternal and spirit.
This drawing isn’t intended to project my personal belief about Creation or the Creation Story. But it is intended to pull together what we often make disparate elements. We tend to talk in divisions: “Sacred and Secular”, “Spiritual and Carnal”, “Man and Woman”, “Human and animal”, “Heaven and Earth” and the like, with emphasis placed on separateness instead of on unity. To me, the stories and images from Indigenous artists have helped me see far more what is held in common than what seems different.
If nothing else, doing this drawing has helped to remind me that starting with nothing much in mind can lead you somewhere full of ideas and purpose. Amazing.
“Lubicon” by Alex Janvier, 1987
I am just over a month into this personal experiment for 2017: A daily blog post having to do with creativity, either of my own or from other artists who inspire and challenge me. Already I have found that it is a rewarding exercise, not only because I get to revisit so many great creators that I enjoy but also because I am discovering new ones along the way. So it is with the Indian Group of Seven.
Following up on my post from yesterday about Alex Janvier and the incredible show of his work at the National Gallery of Canada, I thought it appropriate to introduce you to his fellow Native artists who comprised the Seven (plus one honorary member). Formed in the early 1970’s as the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation, they were given the name “The Indian Group of Seven” in the Winnipeg Free Press, an allusion to the famous Group of Seven (Canadian landscape painters of the 1920’s). The group was made up of Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez. Haida artist Bill Reid was included as an honorary member, bringing the actual number to eight. The group worked to shift the thinking around aboriginal art, which was not taken seriously in its own right. They set out to visit Native communities to teach and promote the arts and they set up a Trust Fund for emerging Native artists. They were a remarkable group with high ideals. Today, just two of their number are still with us (Janvier and Sanchez).
At the Janvier show at the National Gallery, there is a small anteroom where you can see examples of the art from each of the artists in the Group. It was a joy for me to “discover” these remarkable artists. I decided to give you a brief gallery of their work below in hopes you will find that joy as well.
“Artist and Shaman Between Two Worlds” 1980 Norval Morrisseau (1931 – 2007) was known as the “Picasso of the North”
“Family Portrait” 1974 Joseph Sanchez (1948- ) is the lone American of the Group
“Black Wings” Jackson Beardy (1944-1984) was a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven
“Haida Raven” Bill Reid (1920-1998) was not an original member of the Seven but included because of his tremendous influence. His artwork has been featured on the Canadian $20 bill.
“Buffalo Dancer” Eddy Cobiness (1933-1996) Queen Elizabeth II has artwork by Cobiness in her personal collection
“Beaverman” 1977 Carl Ray (1943-1978) was an apprentice of Morrisseau and was also known as Tall Straight Poplar due to his height (6’4″)
“Untitled” (Mother and Child) Daphne Odjig (1919-2016) received the Order of Canada in 1986 and the Governor General’s Award in 2007