GLENBOW MUSEUM, CALGARY AB – June 16 – September 9, 2018
By Michael Turner
Now in his 84th year, Denesuline and Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier is a pioneer in the development of Indigenous art in Canada. A survivor of Alberta’s Blue Quills Indian Residential School, his artistic abilities were recognized at an early age. After graduating from what is now the Alberta College of Art and Design, he took a teaching position at the University of Alberta in 1960. But it is through his evocative abstract paintings and courageous activism that Janvier became revered as an artist for whom land, art and Dene culture are inseparable.
Organized by the National Gallery of Canada, this 65-year retrospective exhibition – Janvier’s largest and most comprehensive yet – features over a hundred drawings and paintings from collections across the country. Included are masterpieces like the epic four-panel Big Fish Waters (1982), as well as works that have never been seen before – all of which bear the mark of an artist whose penchant for vivid colours and arcing, braiding lines was influenced as much by the land as by the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miró.
Among the artist’s best-known works is Morning Star – Gambeh Then’ (1993), an awe-inspiring mural painted on the dome of the Canadian Museum of History. In an effort to include the work, a video was made for gallery display. Also included is a room dedicated to the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. (a.k.a. “The Indian Group of Seven”), a “start-up” that Janvier co-founded in 1973. Featured here are works Janvier made in homage to fellow co-founders Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray and Joseph M. Sanchez.