Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)
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From the Real to the Unreal: Cape Dorset Etchings 1962-63

From the Real to the Unreal: Cape Dorset Etchings 1962-63

Inuit Group Exhibition

July 18 - August 9, 2009

“There is no word for art. … We say it is from the real to the unreal, sananguatavut.”

—Kenojuak Ashevak, 1963

The Spirit Wrestler Gallery is very pleased to present this special exhibition of early etchings and engravings from Cape Dorset.

The drawing programs initiated in Cape Dorset during the late 1950s provided a wealth of surprising and vibrant imagery which in turn became the basis of support for the small print-shop established as part of the community Co-operative. The first release of graphic arts from the Arctic was in 1959, and the yearly release has not only sustained itself to the present day, but has promoted the art of Cape Dorset and of the Canadian Arctic to the world. Over the years since, a number of different techniques and processes were tried — and certainly, the early etching and engraving experiments were a great part of this evolution.

In the early days of drawing, many were confronting paper for the first time — for them the realities of working in a two-dimensional format was often very difficult. A common saying was that drawing was the hardest thing that they could do. Many were also of an age where learning the techniques of print-making was simply too difficult, so from the start, the production of the prints became a collaborative effort — and was considered a “division of labour”. Typically, the drawn images were rendered from the paper onto the stone and then taken to completion by those trained as printmakers. Some of the artists making drawings showed more interest in working with the actual print-makers than others. Quite a number lived outside of the village in out-camps, so their participation could never really be counted upon.

By the early ’60s, the Co-operative in Cape Dorset had acquired a significant asset with the appointment and later hiring of Terrence (Terry) Ryan to work with the promotion of art and crafts within the community. As a trained artist himself, he wanted to involve the artists more directly in the print-making process — and an idea occurred to him that, due to the soft nature of the metal used in copper-plate etching, the artists could themselves “draw” directly onto the plate using basic etching tools.

In 1961, he tried the first experiments in basic etching technique at the print-shop. Later, James Houston came back to Dorset, having just taken a course in Paris in etching and engraving, and shared his knowledge with the printmakers. The effects of this immediacy — that of the artist working direct — became quickly apparent (the actual inking and printing was still done, for the most part, by those trained within the print-shop). Little supervision was given, so it was really the direct vision of the artist — with both accidents and delights — that gave the early copper-plates their charm.

While some enjoyed the process and, like Kenojuak and Kiakshuk, produced quite a number of images, many of the artists found the process quite frustrating. Engraving can take a lot of wrist-strength, and elder artists often had difficulties manipulating the tools effectively, so never really explored the possibilities of the media as a consequence. While examples would continue to be included in the annual releases for years, it was really the early ’60s that was the heyday of the etching experiments.

We are delighted to present this exhibition to you. On behalf of all of us at the gallery — Nigel, Gary, Colin, Eric and myself, we would like to thank Canadian Arctic Producers and Dorset Fine Arts for their encouragement and support — and welcome you to join us and enjoy this special visual treat.

—Derek Norton

Condition of Artwork: All etchings are to be considered in good condition in that they have no major damage or repair, but they may show minor surface wear or discolouration that can be acquired with age. If you have concerns about minor flaws and are not able to view the etchings in person, then please view the detail photos and contact the gallery so that we can answer your questions.

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Current Exhibition

20th Anniversary

20th Anniversary Exhibition

April 23 - May 14, 2016

The Spirit Wrestler team: Colin Choi, Derek Norton, Nigel Reading and Gary Wyatt, have been together now for over 30 years representing master-level Inuit, Northwest Coast, and Māori art - and for the last 20 years as the Spirit Wrestler Gallery. We are celebrating this amazing 20-year journey with a “birthday” exhibition, “Reflections 20Years”. The exhibition will feature many of the great artists from the three extraordinary cultures that we represent that have shared and supported us on this journey… and it is also a “thank you” for all of you who have made this journey so much fun! The Spirit Wrestler Gallery was founded in 1996 and quickly became one of the foremost galleries of first-nation art in North America. The name Spirit Wrestler originates from the title of the book by James Houston that tells the story of a young shaman learning his powers in the Canadian north. At the time, the gallery was looking for a name that allowed for the consideration of both traditional and shamanist-based arts here in Canada, as well as embracing the work by other artists from around the world. Early exhibitions included artists from Alaska, the Canadian Plains, and the Māori from New Zealand, being shown in the same room as Northwest Coast and Inuit art. The cross-cultural interactions have offered a unique fusion in the gallery and generated many group and solo exhibitions that we have hosted over the years. We were witnessing the trend of a growing interaction internationally between artists who were travelling far afield to research the art and modern cultural practices of other nations - and along the way, forging friendships that have endured across great distances. The last two decades have also been an exciting transition time for the arts being created by all three cultures. There was a pronounced movement towards the incorporation of new materials, such as glass, bronze, and polymers - which has opened new avenues for the art itself, both in terms of subject and scale. To be a part of seeing the artists exhibiting their work side-by-side has been very exciting and has made the Spirit Wrestler Gallery a unique and challenging experience for any visitor. We have had the privilege of representing many of the greatest Northwest Coast, Inuit, and Māori artists of our time - and have have had the privilege of showing a great number of the most important pieces produced over the last three decades. It has been an honour to share this long journey with so many great artists and clients. Thank you all so much for your belief and support.

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Spirit Wrestler Gallery

47 Water Street
Vancouver, BC
Canada V6B 1A1

Toll Free: 1-888-669-8813
Phone: 604-669-8813


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3 blocks from Waterfront Station
Between Abbott St. and Carrall St.

Monday to Saturday, open 10-6
Sunday and Holidays, open 12-5