The Spirit Wrestler Gallery is both honoured and privileged to be hosting this exhibition of artwork by the legendary Inuit master graphic artist and sculptor, Kenojuak Ashevak CC, RCA.
The “Light of Happiness” solo exhibition is primarily a retrospective graphic exhibition centered on a collection of ink and crayon drawings from 1988 to 2012 and includes a few of the last drawings she ever completed. The images reflect much of her favourite subject matter, but most especially highlight her love of owl and bird compositions. The drawing collection is then augmented with a number of older sculptures and prints, including three exclusive “never seen before” Kenojuak engraving images, as well as the third and final design in the Kenojuak trilogy of Pendleton blankets.
It is amazingly ten years ago since we hosted her last solo exhibition in our gallery and since then we have been slowly building this retrospective graphic collection for her 85th year. We had dreamed of celebrating this event with Kenojuak in attendance, but we realized with her ailing health that this was unlikely. It was still a shock to us all when she sadly passed away in January 2013. She is greatly missed, not just in her community of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), but by everybody in the world who has had the pleasure of personally meeting her. She leaves us all with so many incredibly fond memories of our times with her.
My last encounter with Kenojuak was in April 2011 at the opening of the Inuit Modern exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As I approached the entrance, I saw her sitting in a wheelchair smoking a cigarette watching the world go by. I knelt in front of her, held her hand, and said “Hello, Kenojuak!” She looked at me with a quizzical look as she tried to remember who I was. It was like pushing the button on a slot machine and waiting for three matching symbols to register in a row. I could see the long rolodex of names, events, and places spinning through her eyes. Suddenly three clicked in a line, the memory registered, her eyes widened, and a big smile illuminated her face. She said something excitedly in Inuktitut, and then she leaned forward, grabbed me, pulling my face against her soft cheek and gave me a big hug. She shouted for Jimmy Manning to come over to interpret and then proceeded to recount her memories of her visit to Vancouver for her solo exhibition at our gallery in 2002.
Kenojuak has traveled all over the world and I have been fortunate enough to have meet up with her in many locations, from Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto to Cape Dorset - and the greeting was always the same as she seemed to always remember. The same is true in reverse, as anyone who ever had the opportunity to meet Kenojuak never forgot her – she was truly a remarkable and very special lady. Being with Kenojuak makes you aware that you are truly in the presence of greatness. On behalf of our Spirit Wrestler Gallery team, Colin, Derek, Eric and Gary, I invite you to view the collection. We will always remember her smile and we think you will agree she has left us an extraordinary legacy of incredible art to enjoy.
“There is no word for art. We say it is to transfer from the real to the unreal. I am an owl, and I am a happy owl. I like to make people happy and everything happy. I am the light of happiness and I am a dancing owl.”
Kenojuak Ashevak quote from “Landmarks of Canadian Art” by Peter Mellen, McLelland & Stewart, 1978.
Spirit Wrestler Gallery would like to especially thank Kate Vasyliw and John Westren of Dorset Fine Arts for their enthusiastic support and assistance in making this exhibition a reality.