Eagle Totem, 2014
Acrylic on exhibition canvas
24” x 24” x 1.5”
From the Mortuary Totem Pole With Grizzly Bear Crest, UBC MOA.
Carved by Bill Reid & Doug Cranmer
“The frontal board at the top is Bill Reid’s own creation and represents Eagle…However, with the knowledge now gained over years of association with Haida culture, he points out that Eagle was inappropriate, because this crest does not belong with the Bear Mother story. As this mortuary pole was not intended to be functional, it has no cavity. The pole was on display at the Spokane World’s Fair of 1974.” LOOKING AT TOTEM POLES - by Hilary Stewart
With the completion of the Brown Bear painting, I received the confirmation of the Silk Purse Gallery exhibition in January 2015. I felt a need to move faster, cranking up the production of the paintings. But I fought that urge, reminding myself that the process of letting the totems guide and taking the time that they needed. It is what made this series and if I was going to remain true to them, this was how I had to continue. So back to my library of images.
The totem that was speaking to me at this time was the Mortuary Totem at UBC MOA, especially the top panel with the Eagle. Again, I was taken by the seemingly opposite positioning of a gentle image, which brought a smile to my face, while still being on a Mortuary Pole. I realize that this thought is through European eyes. And I am OK with that as that has been my approach all along, being sincere in my love of these totems, and allowing myself to respond to them from that simplicity.
But for myself, I was taken by Eagle’s gentle, youthful face. I just needed to paint it. I decided on a 24”x24” canvas even though the board itself was rectangular. I wanted to focus on that wonderful face while indicating some of its surroundings features.
I was initially thinking of using the similar texturing and graining as in the earlier paintings but I found that I was heading a different direction. I was using a gentler, blended technique, following the open features of those eyes, ears and youthful beak that were speaking to me. Actually, what influenced my overall approach was when I was blocking in colour on the surrounding flat board (above and below). I liked how it visualized the aging patina of wooden boards. In developing the ears, which were carved into that same board, I knew that I didn’t want to add graining and cracking for this painting, and just focus on how the light played on its contours, and the shadows created. One new element that I was seeing in my painting, again always guided by what I am seeing in the original image, is how colours radiate light from neighbouring surfaces. There is an inner glow about it. Please note the example of the section of the beak in the shadow. There is a glow to the reds as it follows the contours. The inset carved areas around the eye is another case in point.