An essay written by Marybelle Myers, printed in Arctic Quebec Print Collection, published by La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec (FCNQ) in Montreal in 1975.
Although the work of three Arctic Quebec communities - Great Whale River, Ivujivik and Inoucdjouac - is represented in this catalogue, I would like to draw your attention especially to an important development in Inoucdjouac printmaking; namely, the series of landscapes and self-portraits.
For a month last summer, an informal workshop was held in Inoucdjouac under the supervision of Brian Dalton, a young Canadian artist/teacher. During the Workshop, informal discussions about printmaking were encouraged and one day, suddenly inspired, Dalton suggested to the printmakers that they go outside, look around and, forgetting convention, draw their world as they saw it.
The result is a series of Inoucdjouac landscapes, distinguished by their freshness and honesty. Although it has been a long time since the Eskimo lived in igloos, travelled by dog team and hunted with bow and arrow, his art has been slow to catch up to his life. Conventionally, Eskimo prints and sculpture depict a traditional way of life - a life that used to be. Real or imagined, many Eskimo artists have felt a pressure to perpetuate in their art the romanticized myth of the Eskimo as he hasn't actually been for a long while. Few have had the courage to venture into contemporary themes.
In this catalogue, we see an effort on the part of the Inoucdjouac printmakers to catch us up with what is happening now. It is, after all, unreasonable to expect that the artists of today should invariably draw their inspiration from the apparatus of yesterday. There comes a point when, lacking vital input, expression becomes hackneyed. A hunting scene looks [like] a dozen you've seen before and a kayak or igloo becomes a stereotype of the real thing; for, lacking direct experience of such a life, the artist must rely on other artists' interpretations of them and is hard put to inject any living enthusiasm into his work.
The past has given birth to many great works of art which provide, among other things, an important documentary record; for, it is a way of capturing and interpreting history. Certainly, there are many Inuit artists whose inclination is to create from the past and, endowed with a teeming imagination, are able to re-state it with freshness and vitality. The point I wish to make however, is that there are valid statements to be made about the present as well as the past but, until recently, the Eskimo artist has been expected to look only to the latter for the stuff of his creation.
The Eskimo artist, like artists anywhere, needs the freedom to interpret what is meaningful to him. Looking around, he draws the berries of Inoucdjouac, the tents, the wood houses, the hills and, yes, even the electric wires that energize the village. This is the world that lives for him and just because Eskimos have never made pictures of these things is no reason to continue glossing over them. And while he is getting at the reality of his world, he is also getting at the reality of himself. He looks in a mirror and sees himself and knows that just because an Eskimo has never done a self portrait is no reason not to try.
Other artists have done these things, of course, and the Eskimo does not want to be accused of copying. But, then, was it not only a few years ago, that he began making pictures in the first place? Adopting a white man's technique, he used it in a way it had never been used before. Never a slave to convention, the Inuit artist will continue to use whatever is made available to him, extending it in directions that have meaning for him.
A smiling sun is put into several of the landscapes with the uncontrived assurance of children who, it seems, always draw the sun beaming over their crayoned worlds. Didn't we all draw the sun - often with a face - until we were told not to? Still following his own instincts, the Eskimo artist puts it where it belongs, up there smiling over the antics of life on earth.
Working from the same impulse that inspires artists everywhere to paint the world as they see it, Thomassie Echaluk takes the raw materials of that world, the leaves and tangled vines, and lays them out to resemble features (A Face Out of Nature, 1975). The miniature hunter in the kayak, the hunting scenes so skillfully etched into the leaves, are expressing what cannot be rendered so eloquently otherwise - the interdependence, more than that, the identification, of man and nature. The leaves become environmental symbols, containing and constraining the life of man.
This, it seems to me, is also the deeper message of prints thirteen through seventeen [published in the Arctic Quebec Print Collection 1975]. The way the printing stone has been used in these landscapes is a reminder that the stone transmitting the environmental image is, itself, a part of that totality. It is a variation on the kind of mirror image which informed Plato's caves and is seen again in A Face Out of Nature. The cheeks are stones, each containing an animal caught in a trap. Stones are always used to weight a trap and Eskimo folklore has it that, when the animal dies, his spirit is trapped in the stone. Thomassie has shown us the unity of reality and thought in a way that is too profound for language. One often hears that the Eskimo does not think abstractly and, yet, what deep wisdom, what innate appreciation of the relation of parts to whole, is manifested here.
Others may write of the artistry of the Inoucdjouac prints. My purpose here is to convey something of what it means to the artist to move out in new directions, not relying only on the wealth of the past, but using also, the everyday reality that he is helping to construct by his talent. He may choose to look backward but he must be equally free to look for his subjects in the here and now. The generation growing up with ski-doos and electric lights has important things to say about the reality it knows. Inoucdjouac artists have chosen to show us here, a glimpse of that reality in a way that is as compelling as it is honest.
La Fédération Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec