Mosquito Totem, 2014
18” x 36” x 1.5”
From the ‘Running Wolf Totem Pole’, which tells the origin of the first Gitksan people on the Skeena River. The pole raising was on August 24, 1980 at the Museum of Anthropology, with a large contingent of Gitsan attending. UBC MOA
Carved by Walter Harris, a ‘Ksan carver, and family, Richard, Doreen and Rodney.
A mosquito totem? Let’s face it. Being a prairie boy, I was intrigued by the fact that there was such a thing. In Manitoba, the mosquito is a fact of life that most wished would just disappear. And here, it is depicted in totems on the West Coast.
Kwagiulth legend tells about "The Cannibal at the North end of the World" who was enticing all the humans with a rainbow colored smoke. He would then capture them. A clever Chief dug a huge pit fathoms of fathoms deep and tricked "The Cannibal at the North end of the World" who fell into the pit turning to rainbow colored ash. The Chief cast a spell on him saying; "You will no longer harm my people as 'The Cannibal at the North end of the World' but you shall be a Mosquito". http://www.northwesttribalart.com/
The picture that I had taken of this section was again from the MOA UBC outdoor totem of ‘Running Wolf Totem Pole’. It is the top section just under the carving of the running wolf. The totem has aged further since this photograph was taken. I loved how, at this phase, the gray patina was established, but the deeper layers still showed the warm cedar colours. I also liked how the reflection of the lighter cedar reflected light onto the mouth of the mosquito. I appreciated that this mosquito had teeth, something that I could relate to having swatted countless numbers of them through the years. Aside from its beauty on the pole, I guess my decision to attempt a painting of this mosquito was primarily because it struck my funny bone inside of me and, as an artist, I was taken by its west Coast portrayal; seeing something that I’ve loathed all my life and yet taken by its beauty on this totem. I also loved the eye. Pardon me, but it so reminded me of the squirrel in Ice Age (back to the funny bone in me). Yes I know, it isn’t an anthropological choice based on historical background, but like with the other paintings, I allowed myself to react honestly to the totem, and how it spoke with me. All I can do is try to convey that to anyone who views the painting.
After what has become my standard beginning phase for my paintings, instead of gray, I used a mid cedar colour as the base for this painting. It is the colour that comes through the gray patinas.
I took my time in developing the distinct patterns.
Before adding any gray, I wanted to further develop the darker cedar tones that came through the eye, cheek and mouth. After that, the shadows were key.
The gray patinas in this painting needed to be subtle, being in its earlier stages. If it got too dark, I would lighten it again and again. It was a delicate process of stepping forward and backwards, until the right balance was achieved. A case in point was the beak; getting the right balance between the remaining lighter cedar colours and the patina developing along the rim and edges.
The surprise discovery for me in this painting was the glow of the teeth. This is where constant observation of the original image informs your decisions. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part to create a reflection or glow effect. I was focused on that I saw in the picture. But when I had completed the mouth and took a step back, I was moved by what I had somehow managed to achieve. I loved the look of it. Where that come from, from within me! Those are very special moments for an artist. It isn’t a case of patting yourself on the back or gloating about how good you are. For most artists, the opposite is true. We so judge our work as it develops and very often after it is completed. There is the tendency to keep working and reworking, and not reaching a point where you can say ‘It’s perfect’. With time, an artist learns to follow his/her instincts and just know when it is time to set the brush down. I suppose that also comes from my work in iconography. There is a tradition where an icon is completed, the iconographer will often paint a white line along the outside of the red halo to signify that, even though completed, perfection has not been achieved, and the white nods to the white gessoed surface of the next icon. It is all an ongoing journey. It is the same with this series on the totems.
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