Grizzly Totem #2, 2014
24” x 24” x 1.5”
(Second study of a Grizzly Totem pair)
From Kwakwaka'wakw Bear Pole at Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.
Carved by Kwakwaka'wakw artist, Chief Henry Hunt.
When I completed the Grizzly #1 painting, I came across a photo of the same totem but in brighter lighting. It showed the true colours of the carved wood. That was when I decided to tackle a second version of the Grizzly section. Other then maintaining the exact same graphic design and making a vellum tracing to transfer onto the canvas, using black for the shadowed areas and top corners, I set everything else from the first painting aside to allow the new image to guide the way. I wasn’t making a copy.
I made a few attempts at mixing a base colour for the canvas, until I found one that I felt was close to the base coming through in the photo. This painting was going to prove a radical shift in my style. I find that I am amazing as I look at the 3 earlier pieces and look at the beginning of this one. I can already see a rapidly developing technique and style so early in the series, and the jumps from one to the next. I knew at this point that this was indeed going to be a series. My son and I had many discussions about the series and I had to come up with a title that would guide the way. At the time, we both liked ‘Journeying With The Totems’. It connected with what I was thinking and as the series developed over time, I was taken about how appropriate that title was then, and is still now.
This painting really challenged me in seeing and working in the subtle shades in the totem. I found how forgiving acrylics and my technique were. It dried quickly and, because of the smooth technique of working with my fingers, it was easy enough to simply paint over a section and start over. This happened a few times in the process. It is a constant practice of having the original picture clipped to the same level next to the painting. It allows the eye to work between the two, and when you are unsure about colour choices made, it is best to just sit with both the picture and the painting and study them. You will eventually see what is wrong and how you need to adjust the colour, shaping and shading. My work isn’t about ultra realism, but it is vital to be true to the impact and truth of the totem.
I am beginning to also understand how these close-up depictions are indeed facets in time, where the totem(s) will never look like this again because the aging progress continues; over a longer period when indoors, but continues non-the-less.
With this painting, I had crossed into a more realistic shaping and depiction of how the lights and shadows play on the surface. Understanding the wood and what the carved surface is doing is critical in this process and to determine how the cracks flow within them.
Link to Swartz Bay Terminal Totem Pole:
Andre Prevost, began his work in theatre in the late 70s after completing his studies at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and in his iconography in 1980, and having a large body of work in each. He has since been based in Western Canada; North Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and now back on the West Coast.