Fresh from a summer exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, aboriginal carver Beau Dick offers a fresh perspective on First Nations art.
First Nations’ masks serve a specific purpose. They connect the person who wears the mask to the spirit of its image whether it be an ancestor, an animal or a bird. Ceremonial masks have deep meaning in the community and Beau constructs them, with reverence, in the traditional way using cedar, acrylic paint and horsehair. Traditional yes but Beau adds his own contemporary touches influenced by Asian and European imagery. Fellow artist Roy Arden, for instance, likens Beau’s work to the Japanese Noh mask.
“He seems to have a real understanding of facial anatomy,” says curator and gallery owner Latiesha Fazakas “so when you encounter a Beau Dick mask it’s not a caricature. It’s not lifeless. It has a life to it. Sometimes people say ‘this is really scary.’ It really does look like you’re looking into a real being and I think that translates past culture. I think that’s a breakthrough.”
“My style is sometimes referred to as ‘Potlach Style’, says Beau Dick. “It comes from a tradition of ceremony which requires many masks to be made in a short period of time. It takes many years of practice and an understanding of balance in order to create a work that appears finished in a natural state and instinctive manner, without seeming over-thought.”
Born in Kingcome Inlet BC, a remote Kwakwaka’wakw village north of Vancouver Island, Beau comes from a long line of aboriginal carvers steeped in tradition and ceremony. He moved to Greater Vancouver when he was six, commuting back and forth, immersing himself in the culture of his community but travelling the world too as others became aware of his unique totems, constructions and masks.
His mantra? “It’s sometimes better not to think but just to feel when you’re being creative.”
It’s this ability to connect with people on an emotional level that endears him to curators and collectors. His works are featured in galleries around the world. He participated in the 2010 Sydney Biennale and of course there was that summer show in Ottawa.
“His masks seem to cross culture and by that I mean that people connect with them whether they have any knowledge of Northwest Coast art or not,” says Fazakas.
Not surprisingly then, Beau headlines her opening show at her new gallery.
“I see it as an incubator, “ says Latiesha Fazakas of the gallery she has created in mid-town Vancouver. Sure, she sells pieces and commission’s works on behalf of Beau and others but she wants to educate the public too. “I’ve always found that the more people you talk to and interact with, regardless of whether or not they buy an art work, creates a ripple effect of knowledge and interest,” she says. And that result of that ripple, she hopes, is an appreciation for aboriginal art that goes beyond the tourist shops and anthropological museums.