Other then the Kwaguitl Ancestor painting, the other two paintings within the Sidney Fine Arts Show didn’t sell. I appreciated the one sale and the positive reviews of it, but I was still pretty deflated with the news of the other two, and am trying to process once again. I really needed to have one more sale to cover critical issues on the home front.
In spite of the success of the Kwaguitl Ancestor painting, I was faced once again with the ‘What do I do now!’. The Ancestor sale after the 25% commission, show fees, and travel costs, doesn’t cover the paying down of the credit that I had to use just to get myself to the show. It leaves me with no room in the event of old appliances or a furnace malfunctioning.
It does bring me back once again to, if my artwork doesn’t generate adequate means of support, I just get deeper and deeper in debt. I am also at an age where age discrimination gets in the way of my finding employment. The age old concept of benefactors supporting an artist no longer applies, and I don’t qualify for any granting programs. Some form of support is necessary to pursue further studies and research in the West Coast totems and carving and r the important sites within BC and Alaska.
The two main themes of the conversations during the recent Demo and the Meet The Artists event last Saturday were, a) people loving my work and b) questions about my series re appropriation, permission etc. And as in other previous conversations/dialogs, the questions of appropriation or permission come from non-Indigenous persons. It's a hot button topic right now, and ongoing dialog is important. Some don't understand the variation and niche of my series. They also find it surprising that I haven’t received any complaint from First Nations contact(s) to date. I explain that, with the establishment of the Authentic Aboriginal program, it is too earlier for that dialog for how someone like myself and my work, fits in the picture. And until then, possibilities are on hold as no-one wants to talk about how my work may tie-in or enhance their own programs, until I am sanctioned somehow.
The position that I've deeply thought through from the start, was that the series would always be about the original totems, and was to bring viewers to a close up of the revered totems, as with a facet of a cut gem. Mine is not to artistically interpret them, or incorporate them in artistic compositions. I've had the great blessing of Indigenous friends and contacts in my life, and I've always been sensitive and respectful of the Culture. I've always supported any and all efforts in the repatriation projects, securing authenticity for their art and culture, and working towards inclusivity. And some will know of my efforts within some of my previous management positions, and how my Indigenous focus was in part the cause that brought the cessation of those job postings for me. But my sincerity and intent was always clear in my own mind even when I was/am considered controversial.
And the Indigenous artists that I know haven’t disavowed me for my current series. For example, an Indigenous story teller presented an event in the same space where I had a solo exhibition of the totems series. She sent a message to me with her appreciation of how the work supported her own event (and visa versa), but especially for how I acknowledge the originals and the master carver and stories. Unfortunately, with large shows like Sooke or Sidney, I am unable to include my own art labels.
But as with my previous exhibitions, I continue the dialog about why or when artistic activity falls within First Nation crosshairs and why. I also explain how this informed (and continues to inform) my own foundation before beginning the series. I will never interpret a totem by using its image in an artistic composition. I stay faithful to what the totem is, and only the totem. This is why I will also never do a painting of a mask. The masks were not initially intended to public viewing, but until I receive permission to do so, I will stay true to that. But I can see in people's eyes that they don’t fully comprehend, and just see me as rationalizing my work. So the dialog will continue, which I've anticipated from the start, and remain very clear as to my integrity and sincerity in the project.
Which brings me back to the Art Show that closed on Oct. 16th. I found it interesting that the ‘Best In Show’ went to a painting which also included a totem, but it was an artistic interpretation. I believe that the reason it won had to do with its night time composition which included a little bird, which had been added on the totem. It's a composition that I could never do as it begins to cross into that possibility of appropriation. During the demo, I had a lot of people assuming that the Best In Show was also mine and congratulated me. That was a somewhat eggy moment for them and myself when I had to explain that it wasn't mine.
But it was a first for me to receive an Honourable Mention for the Kwaguitl Ancestor painting. But I suppose my focus with the series wouldn't succeed with art awards simply because my paintings have been described as being time capsules and less about artistic composition. Some will argue that my paintings don't speak about me or what I want the viewer to feel. The paintings are very much about me. It is about my response to the totems, and the awe that each totem draws from me as I stand in front of it. For me, it is such a gift when I can set my hand on a totem and feel its life and movement. The series shares that connection and the intent is to draw the viewer in to that up close experience and awe. It also a fact that the common reaction from all my exhibitions, including the large art shows, is "I just want to feel the wood (on the canvas)'.
Back to the idea of time capsules, none of the totems presented in my paintings have remained the same. All continue the aging process after the image was taken. I am always struck by that fact whenever I go visit the totems at a later date, and see how much each has changed. But their lives are no different then mine. The reality is such that people who have known me through the years, will also be initially struck by the fact that I too have aged. I can only hope that my aging (our aging) can also maintain the level of integrity and nobility that the totems do. My work with the totems doesn't come into play until they begin to show the marks of their aging; the cracks expanding form their wood grains, their patinas, their paint finishes succumbing to the weather, etc. These tell an important story. Some have asked if I would do a painting of a new totem. My response is 'There is no point. A good photograph would do the job. My painting a new totem would be me painting the paint of the totem. When new, a totem has all the beauty of how its carver(s) transformed it, and has just begun the life given to it.'
So, my integrity within the totem series has very much placed me in a weird limbo, on a fence so to speak. I don’t allow myself artistic license to interpret the totems, which limits me in addressing and satisfying non-Indigenous viewers in order for my work to be more lucrative. My artistic choice that I do allow myself is my cropping selection stage for a chosen canvas size. You will notice that , even though the totem series is in a 'series', no two are alike (with the exception of the Mosquito and Killer Whale paintings because they are from the same totem and from the same date the image was taken). Each painting begins from a blank canvas and I start with no preconceived plan. I allow myself to respond to each image and let it guide on a new journey. In responding to the images, that is also a big part of how I choose my next subject; which totem(s) that beckons. They sometimes even bump a painting already in progress.
Granting bodies won’t support my work until it is validated by a collaboration with an Aboriginal artist or entity. But a collaboration isn't about validation. It isn't a question about my work being validated, no more then my work validating the totem(s). But a collaboration opens new opportunities for all parties involved. And to date, it is too early in that dialog before any clarification can be crafted for someone like myself within the Authentic Aboriginal movement. For me, my hope is to come to a point where it is ok 'for Prevost to walk along side'.
In this show, the Kwaguitl Ancestor had great interest, siting the colours and uniqueness. Given that this particular totem is unusual, there are no others like it (that I'm aware of). I am left with the quandary that people are interested in stylized interpretations with lots of colour, so much so that, it shifts the focus from the original totem. That’s when you cross into appropriation. For example, if I switch to doing even tighter close-ups of totems details (just the eye, the nose etc.), and enhance the colours from the original, the original can no longer be recognizable, the power of the original is lost, and the original has been diminished. It isn't true to the actual totem at a particular moment in its life cycle. A tight tight closeup is about the cleverness of the closeup and artistic skill. That is not my base for the series. There are many totems that would have to be left out from being explored if I only do those that are ‘artsy’ enough. But I find that I can't maintain the totem series without some form of financial support. There are many still to do.
Then, if I don’t paint the totems, and venture into more conventional art subjects (whatever that would be, which doesn't interested me in general), I know for a fact that I’d be in even more pressed in making ends meet in supporting my family.
So that is my ‘limbo’.
To reinforce why I do what I do, I wanted to share my great experience at VIU on October 12th. I put together a basic short video clip using the portion of the audio clip I recorded from the Tom Hunt celebration, both of his new totem, along with the completion of the overall project that saw the installation of 3 totems in all on campus. The partial audio clip was from the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation's opening singing and I added a few pictures that I had taken with my iPhone. I first requested permission to share my short video of the event.