Canada loses a Nunavut master of contemporary Inuit art
Itee Pootoogook died this week in Iqaluit
The celebrated artist Itee Pootoogook may have lost interest in traditional pastimes after attending residential school in the 1950s and 1960s, but he developed a keen sense of observation when it came to recording the evolution and modernization of the North.
Pootoogook, who was born in 1951 at Kimmirut — then called Lake Harbour — and later moved to Cape Dorset, lost his fight with cancer in Iqaluit this week. He was 63.
“He got his ideas from the changes happening in northern life,” said Joemie Takpaungai, studio manager at the West Baffin Co-op in Cape Dorset and a friend of Pootoogook. “He was very meticulous. He was into details and he was very good at it.
“We have a drawing studio here and he used to always come in. The studio is going to be very quiet now.”
Pootoogook leaves behind a wife and children in Ottawa, Takpaungai said, as well as three sisters and a brother in Cape Dorset.
In a telephone interview with Nunatsiaq News in 2011 during a solo show of his work at the Marion Scott Gallery in Vancouver, Pootoogook told reporter Jane George, “I taught myself everything. Nobody taught me anything. I learned on my own.”
Takpaungai said he loved how Pootoogook would sometimes draw pictures of people hunting, and sometimes watching television and that he understood both of these modern and traditional realities in Nunavut.
“He put his memories on paper. That’s how he dealt with the changes. He will be greatly missed for his contribution to the co-op and to the southern world of contemporary art,” said Takpaungai.
Robert Kardosh, director of the Marion Scott Gallery, was equally saddened by Pootoogook’s passing.
“This is a huge loss to Canada,” said Kardosh in a March 20 news release from the gallery. “Pootoogook was a major artist who helped bring Inuit drawing into the mainstream of contemporary Canadian art.”
According to Kardosh, Pootoogook began drawing as a young man but didn’t really start making art in earnest until the 1990s.
Gallery shows of his work followed in 2010 and 2011, culminating in a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, a first for an Inuk artist.
“Like his cousin Annie Pootoogook, Itee Pootoogook focused in his art on contemporary life in the North rather than traditional imagery,” the news release says.
“His drawings of vernacular architecture in the North are daring in their simplicity, and his portraits of everyday activities, such as watching TV and fixing skidoos, are similarly unsettling in their apparent modesty and their claims about the sources and nature of Inuit art.”
Takpaungai knew him more as a local talent, and a friend.
“He was quiet and friendly but when he had motivation, he could talk and talk and talk,” Takpaungai said, laughing.
“He was just a guy who grew up in the 50s and 60s didn’t even know what grade he was in when he went to school.”