Bob Boyer: His Life's Work
To Ann Boyer.
Everything I’ve been able to do as an adult is because of the kind of partner I’ve had. I feel very lucky to have found a person who is personally strong and free enough to accept that the other person is strong and free. We travel along together very well.
— Bob Boyer, The Third Degree (University of Regina)(Spring 1995)
The MacKenzie Art Gallery is honoured to be the host institution for a major exhibition on the work of Saskatchewan artist Bob Boyer. We are equally honoured to be working again with Lee-Ann Martin, Curator of Contemporary Canadian Aboriginal Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. As curator for the exhibition, Lee-Ann has added many dimensions to the project. Her considerable knowledge of contemporary Aboriginal art, her understanding of Bob’s work, and her personal friendship and commitment to Bob and Ann Boyer, help to make Lee-Ann’s contribution to the understanding of Bob’s work both thoughtful and comprehensive.
A retrospective exhibition that takes on the life’s work of an artist is certainly a daunting task. The curator must work with many public collections and private collectors to make sure that there is an engaging, rigorously considered selection of the artist’s work to date. The objective is to look back on and contemplate the artist’s entire body of work. It is an investigation into their working principles and philosophies. It reveals what and who inspired them, and explores how they inspire others. And it is an acknowledgement of the contributions they have made to the ongoing canon and counter-canon of our art history. And, in this particular case, we are also celebrating and honouring the man — a man who contributed wisdom, humour, advice, instruction, beauty and critical inquiry. So much accomplishment for such a humble man.
I had the benefit of knowing Bob as an artist, advisor and friend. He was a formidable mentor to many of us working in the arts in Saskatchewan. I never saw a powwow dancer dance so low to the warmth of the ground. And I never knew an advisor who could cut so closely to the quick of an issue. Whether as a member of the MacKenzie Board of Governors, as a member of the Gallery’s Acquisitions Committee, as a participant on an advisory committee or a speaker on a panel, Bob was a teacher — he influenced through instruction. Bob could sometimes seem brittle and harsh. But it was only because for so long, so much remained unattended to; so much is still at stake today. His impatience had to do with his own comparative and connective analyses of the relationship between First Nations people in Canada and Indigenous peoples around the world. Bob once said: “The values of First Nations’ cultures are what make Aboriginal art unique. . . . Aboriginal art based solely on the academy is without Aboriginal soul.” Bob instructed us to be thoughtful, mindful and very careful about any intentions associated with decision-making and action. Once we listened to Bob, there was learning and the recognition of a soft, decent man who had taken on the weight of his own commitments and vision.
The legacy of his work will continue to instruct through the transference of cultural tradition, infused with his individuality and personal storytelling. The bilateral symmetry of the work allows us an understanding of the artist, Bob Boyer, as well as an understanding of the complexity of our world. The symbolic and the literal, the communal and the individual, the universal and the specific, expression and transgression, tension and forgiveness — all find their way through Bob’s work towards our own experience as people in a complex, contemporary time.
A project such as this relies on the contribution of many individuals. I wish to thank Lee-Ann Martin for the gift of her passion, vision and leadership throughout the complex process of organizing the exhibition. Many thanks go as well to the guest writers for the catalogue — Ted Godwin, Carmen Robertson and Alfred Young Man — for enriching our understanding of Bob and his work by sharing their many encounters with him. As always, I am thankful for the enthusiastic and committed work of the MacKenzie staff who worked tirelessly on this project. Special thanks go to Assistant Curator Michelle LaVallee, who took on the role of exhibition coordinator with exceptional grace and energy; Head Curator Timothy Long who gave thoughtful oversight to many aspects of the project, including the publication; Educators Wendy Winter and Alison Dean, whose programs have brought Bob’s work to life for new and old audiences alike; exhibition researcher Nicole Brabant, whose patient work greatly enhanced this publication; and to all the staff who contributed to the success of the exhibition.
We are deeply indebted to the collectors and institutions that have generously agreed to lend works by Bob Boyer from their collections for the exhibition and national tour. We thank Allen and Marla Dufour, Phillip Gevik of Gallery Gevik, Phyllis Godwin, Ted Godwin, Michelle Hunter and Brad Hunter, Mike Laliberte, Tammi Shanahan, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Glenbow Museum, the Indian and Inuit Art Centre, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Kamloops Art Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Mendel Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, the Native Heritage Foundation of Canada, Inc., First Nations University of Canada Collection, the Saskatchewan Arts Board Permanent Collection, the Saskatchewan Legislative Building Art Collection, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and those lenders who wish to remain anonymous.
Funding for this project has come as the result of commitments from a number of key organizations and individuals who wished to see Bob’s legacy recognized. We are grateful for the collaboration of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which has provided the time and resources for Lee-Ann Martin to work on this project, as well as participating as a venue in the national tour. Major funding for the exhibition production, publication and tour was provided by the Museums Assistance Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage, a contribution that made possible this testimony to the lasting impact of Bob Boyer’s life and work. We are also grateful for the sponsorship of Casino Regina, which greatly assisted us in the presentation of this exhibition and its associated programming. The MacKenzie Art Gallery also acknowledges the support of its membership and volunteers, as well as generous funding provided by individual donors, corporate sponsors, University of Regina, Government of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Arts Board, Canada Council for the Arts, Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation, City of Regina Arts Commission, Regina Public Schools and Regina Catholic Schools.
Most of all, I wish to thank Bob Boyer for his life’s work, which has so greatly enriched our lives, and to his wife Ann Boyer, for so graciously allowing us to share his personal and artistic legacy through this exhibition.