While I've been working and exhibiting the Journeying With The totems series, I've received questions such as 'How are you connected with First Nations', 'Do you have permission from First Nations', 'Are you working with First Nation artists on this project', etc. The hcoreof these inquiries, usually from non-Indigenous persons being politically correct, comes down to, 'why and what right do you have to paint this series'.
I don't have any difficulty with these questions as I was prepared for them when I began my journey with this series and especially before the exhibitions. My journey began with a long hard look as to 'why'. I needed to find a foundation that gave me permission within my own integrity and my deep respect for the First Nations Cultures and the works of the Masters. I am very clear as to who I am and am not. I am also very clear in that my focus and the nature of my work is iconographic yes, but I am deeply committed in presenting what I see, what anyone sees when looking closely at the treasures of the West Coast. It is not my heritage to interpret the totems. The extent of my 'artistic' choices is selecting the focus of a particular section of a totem, like a facet of a gem stone. The facet isn't the whole of a gem's beauty, but is is a distinct part which is beautiful onto itself. And after experiencing that close-up, being able to then step back and see the full totems in a new appreciation; the colours, the process, the aging, the mastery of the carvers, and hopefully a deeper eagerness to learn more about them. And key to me - Be open and 'Let the totem talk to you'.
But this journal entry is about how new phases in ones life do not come out of the blue. In this particular case, the question of why I am working on a totem series, is simple. I have had First Nations & Métis friends and contacts throughout my life, have supported First Nations artists and designers within the various theatre and Arts Admin roles that I've played, and then there are the simple things that surround me every day.
These have been my cherished keepsakes from the early 1980s when I lived and worked in North Vancouver in one of my previous lives here. These were from talented young men selling their creations, and I hope that they can one day come to know that their creations remain honored and with me at all times.
And they are part of that presence within me that always draws me to the totems and all the awe inspiring mask carvings. A distinction that I made when starting on the painting series was that, even though the masks are so beautiful, these were not meant for the public's consumption. They are private to each First Nation, and I therefore won't paint them out of respect.
And that same deep respect also guides me in always crediting the Masters and background on the totems within the printed materials used in exhibitions and on my website.
Links to the First Nations Carvers featured: