Andrea N. Walsh
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria
To begin with humble respect I wish to acknowledge the location of the University of Victoria’s Legacy Art Gallery Downtown on the ancestral and traditional territories of the Lekwungen speaking peoples of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. For generations since time immemorial artists from these and other Salish nations that span the Canada/US border have contributed to a rich history of visual and material culture. The artists in this exhibition draw upon this history and continue to produce knowledge through their contemporary practices. I raise my hands to Salish artists of the past and present for their generous sharing of knowledge through art.
The starting point for this exhibition began with a question: what does a visual history of Salish printing look like? To consider this question, students from the University of Victoria’s Department of Anthropology completed a general survey of Salish print collections in five museums and educational institutions¹ on the northwest coast. The survey produced a database of prints numbering over 800 individual pieces.² We shared this information in the form of digital images and spreadsheets of collections data with local Salish artists in July 2015 at a two-day workshop at the Legacy Art Gallery in Victoria.³ The focus of the workshop was to consider a collaboratively curated exhibition of Salish prints that stemmed from the artists’ own interests in the surveyed collections, and would also include prints from these collections by each artist.
After the artists looked over the binders of prints, and looked at the spreadsheets of dated information, their discussion moved from the museums’ collections of prints to their own stories about making prints. Often these stories had very little to do with a critical focus on the actual image. Rather, the narratives ranged from dialogue about external references such as inspirations by senior artists, to interactions with printers about appropriate colours and design details, to the choices by gallery owners about what to sell to their publics and collectors. The stories the artists shared with each other were also deeply personal. They relayed connections between the artists’ lives through family and community relationships and personal experiences. This discussion brought forth everyday realities of printmaking that were fundamentally different than information recorded through the documentation of the museums’ collections.
In many cases, artists spoke about how the designs of their prints intersected with other parts of their art practice in the form of sketches, paintings, photographs, and sculptural objects. Not one of the artists, several of whom have created prints for decades, called themselves a printmaker. From this realization, it became apparent that in spite of the original proposal for artists to choose images to exhibit from existing collections, these museum collections reflected the agendas of the institutions. Such agendas included the accrual of artistic, cultural, and economic value as part of the acquisition of an emerging body of contemporary Salish art.
The artists reflected on their art as integrated into various external contexts for Indigenous printmaking on the northwest coast, primarily the commercial art market. Serigraph prints in particular are highly sought after by individual collectors and institutions. Prints travel the world as the works of individual artists, as well as visual symbols of nations and their territories situated along this massive coastline. By the time prints are presented on the commercial market, they have often gone through several conceptual and design filters to present an image and an associated narrative that are attractive to buyers.
This exhibition presents printmaking as a process that incorporates a range of printing techniques that include serigraphy, giclée, monoprinting, and commercial lithography. Out of the Frame: Salish Printmaking seeks to take prints out of a commercial framework and explore the ways in which printmaking is an activity that is integrated in unique ways into each artist’s practice and life. By juxtaposing objects and/or images chosen by the artist with their prints, we begin to see the printed images differently – not as products for sale to outside audiences – but as images that speak to the more personal, creative and material world of each artist. In the case of the works by lessLIE, the prints become objects in their own right, thus challenging our concept of prints as framed paper to be hung on the wall. He uses the space of the gallery to install his prints in sculptural forms through two new works. In the piece iteRATION lessLIE is again inspired to take up a position in relationship to the iconographic Starbucks coffee company. He plays with the concept of character development in the piece, Inter(Indian)Act. In this latter work lessLIE encourages gallery audiences to pick up and rearrange the cubes of prints, so as to change the relationship between the characters represented in the human faces.
Prints, and the objects juxtaposed with them in the gallery, often carry the same, or a similar design, but with subtle differences according to the media or materials used. Chris Paul’s works indicate the way in which printing is just one way he explores a design to its full potential. The concept and design of his large steel piece, Salish Sea (Figure 1), is re-presented through a giclée print. In the context of the gallery, Paul has laid flat the 10’ long, 1.5” thick, water-jet cut panel on a striking red table-like frame. The piece is one of an edition of ten; another piece from this edition of Salish Sea is installed on the landscape at Oak Bay Marina in Victoria. A video by Exhibition Assistant Justine Drummond depicts a sunrise and sunset silhouette of the installed steel panel in situ on the waterfront, mirroring the black graphic giclée of the piece in the gallery. The movement of the sun rising and setting through the waterfront panel allows visitors to experience how the artist uses the design outside the gallery confines.
Maynard Johnny Jr.’s piece Spindle Black Circle speaks to the artist’s status as a long time fan of the band Pearl Jam. In Mayn Lea and Raven’s True Love (Figure 2), we see the process of Johnny’s work whereby he creates a print from an original painting. The print is an exact replica of the painting including the colour schematic. Generally, printmaking involves negotiating design and colour with a printer and a gallery.
Angela Marston is well known for her intimate works she creates from weaving cedar. A cedar hat (Figure 3) she created complete with fur is included in the exhibition as evidence of her technical expertise. As she says, the hat displays almost every weaving technique she has been taught. For this exhibition she includes monoprints inspired by her travels to Mexico. These works on hand-made paper speak of her attentiveness to texture as well as form. The new piece she produced for this exhibition is a triptych titled Change. These three prints echo the use of copper and the technique of weaving displayed in the cedar hat, but also the modern sculptural basket exhibited next to them in the gallery. Marston cuts through the paper to weave strips of copper and incorporates buttons of abalone shell, again bringing her love of texture and materiality to the fore in her print works.
Charles Elliott shares his intimate and early process of drawing and sketching in two images and designs that have resulted in published prints. Elliott is known for his works that speak to stories of the land and the people who have lived on the peninsula for generations and generations. Often place-specific, the subjects of his prints form a deep record of land and water-based events in history. In the exhibition, the viewer sees the origin of the print in the form of preliminary pencil sketches. Elliott’s continued work on the design after the original concept is created is seen through subtle changes in form and colour choices in the published print.
Douglas LaFortune brings forth a wealth of drawing from his personal archive to share his process of creating prints. Pieces in the exhibition range from the first print he created for the commercial market to those he produced for academic conferences and large institutions. The hand drawing and painting of the paperworks juxtaposed with the final print reveals the artist’s handwork that becomes invisible once the printer takes over the production of a serigraph or lithograph print. Like many artists, LaFortune has embraced printing technology and, now, not only produces serigraph prints, but also art cards, and small posters that are given as gifts at holidays and giveaways to mark significant events for his family. His love of sports is seen through his constant creation of sports team logos using Salish design elements. His daily practice of creating small drawings for his family and grandchildren is seen in the images of the prints he creates. LaFortune’s work is a record of his relationships, and his family is seen as a constant source of inspiration in the works in Out of the Frame.
Andy Everson’s installation exemplifies his commitment to the Idle No More movement. The viral image he created for the movement is shown on the placard he created for use in protests, and it is echoed in his printed panel for the collective work, Out of The Frame. He juxtaposes this poster with his Stormtrooper costume titled Defender. In so doing, he sutures his printmaking practice to an ongoing history of popular culture.
Finally, Dylan Thomas’ prints are juxtaposed with a vintage M.C. Escher book from his personal library. Escher’s own curiosity and exploration of the relationship between mathematics and art has influenced Thomas’ prints in profound ways. Over the years, he has worked to develop his own style using traditional Salish art forms. The youngest artist in the exhibition, his work conceptually and technically speaks about his desire to integrate layers of historical knowledge through stories of Salish origin with complex geometric designs from the contemporary world around him. Like Everson and Elliott, Thomas expresses a concern for the health of the land and our relationship with it through his works Salmon Spirits and Ripple.
Each piece in this exhibition was chosen in collaboration with the artist who created the work. Over months of multiple studio visits, coffee chats, and phone calls the artists created new works and/or looked at their own archive with a different perspective on printmaking. The result is an exhibition that has produced a new conversation about the place of printmaking in contemporary Salish art.
- The institutions surveyed were: Royal British Columbia Museum, University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries, Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia, Burke Museum at University of Washington, and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
This number does not reflect the duplicate images found in the collections.
The artists who attended this original workshop were: Butch Dick, Charles Elliott, Angela Marston, Chris Paul, Maynard Johnny Jr., Andy Everson, and lessLIE.