Well, the show is entering its final stretch, and I am so thankful that the weather will finally be clearing up for it. Most Vancouverites are stoic but rain, but the endless storms have been oppressive lately, and foot traffic in the park (and the gallery) has been dismal on some days. It has become a major concern for my exhibition.
Yesterday, a few people came through as they were starting to come to the park again, but I noticed a shift in their approach to the gallery, where they go to the front door off the deck instead of the main side entrance. I had been working at that end of the gallery the past few weeks, trying to not get in the way of viewing the paintings. With the long range forecast showing sunshine for the next week (Yay!), it would be great if that front door is open. So, I found a way to cram myself into another corner. Not ideal as it is near the main entrance and washroom...and the lighting is poor, but it will do.
I'm not sure about being onsite next week. I'll play it by ear. I'm juggling the question whether my presence is a good thing or whether it is intimidating some people from coming in. I know that many like to meet and chat with me, but others may feel like I am there to push a sale. They would be partially correct as there hasn't been any sale to date, and I had hoped for a better result. The home budget needs it to be. But my main goal to be onsite is the increase exposure and hopefully create new relationships and networks.
I had been prepared for the inevitable questions of the totems paintings and my not being aboriginal, and so far, the conversations have been very positive around that. Interesting that the more pointed inquiries are always from non-Aboriginals! A few young Aboriginals artists came in the other day, who happened upon the exhibition. I will always cherish that conversation on many levels. They understood my approach to the totems, and we had a great chat about their own art and their journeys. It is not an easy path. We shook hands and I wished them well in their discoveries. 'Stay true to yourself.'
I then met with an artist friend. It was awkward at first as I sensed there had been a problem around my work. The artist also shares a love of totems, wanted to meet and get the concern out in the open. I am thankful for that, although it did leave me in a bit of a slump the remaining part of the day. I had never seen my work as being potentially hurtful. The thing that made it harder to process for the artist was the fans and staunch supporters that were agitated and insisted that I was copying the artist's work. They were well intended but the truth of the matter is that they are off the mark. The totems are out there for everyone to see, and many artists and photographers respond to them, each in their own way.
In my work in iconography, you quickly adjust to the fact that others are doing the same work and people will like or dislike the work of various iconographers. We are all writing icons but we have our own styles. No 2 are alike.
I wanted to express to my artist friend that we are kindred spirits in our love for the totems, and how we both feel that we've found a distinct niche for our work. We are simply walking a parallel journey. My friend's work is so distinctive, in every piece. Even though we happen to be both painting totems subjects, the two approaches are different. And I too know that, even though I too feel I have discovered a unique place for my totem paintings, it will spur other artists to do similar work, and the work will evolve accordingly. It would be great, as an artist, to have found that distinction as 'That is clearly the work of Andre Prevost' but the reality is such, that in each of our journeys as artists, few of us will achieve that notoriety. But that is the ongoing wrestling of our work. It ultimately comes down to the work, and finding that balance of promoting it in order to survive and support families etc., and in turn, allow us to continue painting.
Anyway, there was lots to process after that conversation, and I suspect that is why the questions of whether I asked permission to do this series, has become a bit more affecting. It is more the pattern of non-Aboriginal persons showing themselves as knowledgeable and being quasi defenders of Aboriginal Arts. But in the meantime, don't fully understand the nature of totems and the 'hows and whys' of how I've approached this series. So I keep explaining the foundation on which the series was formed on, hoping that, on some level, that dialogue will evolve. My sincere hope is that in time, my work will be seen as supportive and as honouring the great totems of the Nations, Families, and Masters who have and are once again creating them. My only goal is that, in my responding to these wonderful treasures, my work can simply be seen as an homage to the great works, and as bringing viewers closer to facets of these wonders and through them, grow in their appreciation and understanding.
FEBRUARY 14, 2015:
Today was a good day. Back to talking about the work with people who both loved it and appreciated it for what it was.