Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s latest exhibit at the CAG titled NeoNative Drawings and Other Works is part retrospective as well as a look at more recent 2D creations. On display is a selection of artwork from a range of media such as pencil drawings water colours and finished prints created from etching as well as a beautifully displayed copper etching plate used to press ink onto paper. I was already familiar with Lawrence’s painting discipline as I have frequently viewed his work as part of various exhibits at the VAG, so I was excited to see in person how his artistic vision held up in a different format. From what I recall, his paintings showed a healthy non-conformist at work depicting Northwest Coast Native Art with bright sometimes fluorescent colours all in the attempt to tell the story of First Nations people within the realm of Contemporary Art.
In this exhibit which is for the most presents a simplified colour palette consisting primarily of the grey scale, a dialog that consists of themes relating to Canada’s natural as well as social history develops through the eyes of the artist. In the BC Binning Gallery within the CAG, trees take the dominant role as subject matter as they are depicted with almost portraiture like importance as though to suggest to the viewer that trees are in fact people too. Other selections begin to set a more ominous tone, where masked supernatural characters are seen replanting trees with their big claws whilst in the background lay the killing fields with tree stumps as far as the eye can see.
I am familiar with the linking of First Nations culture with the natural world and I feel Lawrence’s personification of this bond depicted by various characters interacting closely with the natural sphere is quite refreshing. Yuxweluptun’s approach is a lot more hard-hitting as frequently these supernatural people are shown healing the wounded elements of nature that “man” or more specifically the Canadian forestry industry has inflicted on this once pristine and innocent land. I understand that this isn’t just some form of indictment pertaining to the modern world’s misuse of its natural resources. It is also to show that Aboriginal people, who are considered by some including myself as the first environmentalists, lived a life style that consisted of a mutually beneficial relationship with our surrounding natural world.
It is interesting to think and see that Lawrence’s demonstration of the First Nation’s mentality with regards to the environment is what many people consider their chosen utopian relationship with the eco-system in the present day. Yuxweluptun’s attempts at relating such things as trees directly to the First Nation spirit of living clarifies that Native people don’t necessarily worship nature but are and have been all along aware of the fact that we are “nature”. This awareness that a tree is as much a part of you and me as it is the soil and water begins to imply throughout the exhibition that chain saws used in forestry practices are not elements of industry but murder weapons, massacring innocent and integral parts of ourselves.
Although a lot of imagery suggestive of the painful circumstances surrounding Aboriginal people’s existence is present, Lawrence’s superimposed point of view which consists of humor and a whimsical playfulness along with his marvelous mastery of illustrative techniques makes this a fun and beautiful exhibition to spend some time visiting. Overall this exhibit demonstrates Yuxweluptun’s continued artistic growth and willingness to push not only the boundaries of subject matter with relation to contemporary art in order for it to include first people’s storytelling and iconography but also the conventions of Northwest Coast artistic traditions. This is why he is at the forefront of Contemporary Native Art and one of Canada’s most dynamic and inspiring artists.
Dan Potter has been volunteering at the CAG since Oct 2009.