“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.
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.