Eagle Sculpture by Artist Corey Bulpitt in Vancouver (Image © Robbie Werd)
Corey Bulpitt is a multi-disciplinary Haida artist known for his painting, jewellery, graffiti art and wood carving. Earlier this summer he took his latest creation, a finely sculpted eagle sitting atop a weather-beaten telephone pole, that’s right, a telephone pole, throughout the streets of East Vancouver, home to many First Nations.
“There were people weeping, telling me it was a life changing thing,” says Bulpitt. “You know, just to remember where they came from sitting there in that bleak environment. They see the eagle and they say ‘oh yeah, we come from this.”
Bulpitt thought it would be a rapid walkabout but his east-side tour took on a life of its own. People started attaching messages to his sculpture.
“A lady was walking by and said ‘can I put this poster here?’ I said sure. It was about missing women and then another guy had a poem that his daughter wrote about being a survivor of a residential school.”
Residents attached more messages and buttons too. “It was one of the best experiences ever,” says Bulpitt, confirming that the experience was as life-affirming to the artist as it was to the people it touched. “Much like raising a [totem] pole,” he says.
Bulpitt is one of many First Nations artists who are taking contemporary, urban influences and marrying them with traditional aboriginal culture. For Bulpitt, the marriage is easy; he was raised in Langley, a Vancouver suburb. For others, it’s a result of growing up with pop culture, social media and music. Especially music. For the past twenty years, aboriginal youth have identified with the beat and lyrics of hip hop, turning a South Bronx idiom into their own. Bulpitt, who has been a DJ himself, says hip hop is a potent life force.
“What make us human is singing, dancing, art work –all the same elements as hip hop. I find hip hop is basically a way for urban people to identify with the roots of humanity.”
Bulpitt says the native community is OK with the marriage of old and new. Trained in traditional Haida woodcarving by his uncle Christian White, Bulpitt’s Haida name is Taakeit Aaya or Gifted Carver. “I like to keep it at a respectful level,” he says of his art works.
His most recent work and that of other crossover artists is currently on tour in a collection called Beat Nation. The show includes poetry, performance, graffiti, sculpture and 16 aboriginal hip hop videos selected by hip hop artist Ostwelve. Beat Nation is presently on view at the Musee d’art contemporian de Montreal.
Meanwhile Bulpitt’s eagle atop the telephone pole is now resting in Vancouver’s Fazakas Gallery alongside a more conventional Bulpitt creation, a delicately carved unpainted totem.