Where imagination reigns supreme: Cape Dorset’s renowned print shop
“That’s a lot of the genius of the Kinngait studio”
In a familiar Inuit tale a grandmother is transformed into a bowhead whale and is banished to the sea.
That’s why one of Tim Pitsiulak’s prints in the 2012 Cape Dorset print collection shows a bowhead whale wearing an amauti, an image that combines elements of the human world with animal imagery.
The bowhead whale sits gracefully against a dark background, while the blue of its garment compliments its grey skin on a large print called “Arvik Amuasijartuq” or “bowhead in amauti.”
“Whale Sounding,” another stonecut and stencil print by Pitsiulak, shows a beluga whale diving below the surface of the water. The beluga, surrounded by black background, also wears an amauti of muted green and deep orange.
Pitsiulak’s work, part of the annual Cape Dorset print collection, went on display in Iqaluit at the Oct. 20 opening of this year’s collection at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum.
Pitsiulak, 45, who lives in Cape Dorset, said at the event that he knew he wanted to draw whales because he always sees the animals, and “no one knows that much about them.”
“I hunt back home and seeing them when I go boating, [they’re] just that much more beautiful. They’re huge and they’re very powerful,” he said.
The 2012 collection of 30 prints also includes works by other West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative artists, including the acclaimed Kenojuak Ashevak, Mayoreak Ashoona and Ohotaq Mikkigak.
Ashevak, 85, is an Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada, and the Order of Nunavut. Also an inductee into Canada’s Hall of Fame, among other honours, she holds an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University.
Ashevak’s prints hang in private collections and museums, her work has been reproduced on postage stamps, on the 25-cent piece celebrating the Millennium, and on stained glass windows in an Ontario church.
But this year’s Cape Dorset print collection also introduces a few newcomers: Cee Pootoogook, who did a print called “Nanuit Puijurtut” (Bears Swimming), Pudlo Samajualie, who made “Amiarutiit” (Brushes) and Qaluituk Kingwatsiaq, who created “Tarrilikitaarq” (Butterﬂy).
Leslie Boyd Ryan, director of the marketing arm of the West Baffin Co-op, Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto, said Kingwatsiaq’s orange butterfly resembles stitched-together bird wings due to the feather-like quality of the bright image.
In Nanuit Puijurtut (Bears Swimming), two bears are doing “a graceful undersea dance,” she said.
Pudlo Samajualie’s drawing of different sized paintbrushes done without colour stands out in the 2012 collection, where animal themes predominate — which Ryan said is quite common in the annual print collections.
The strongest animal in this year’s group of prints: “Red Fox,” a stonecut by Ashevak.
The print shows a bright red fox with a black-tipped tail, bending down to nibble at something on the all-white ground.
Boyd Ryan admits this style of drawing is different for Ashevak, who is better known for her elaborate images of birds and animals.
“It is a bit of a departure, and it’s bold graphically,” she said.
Pat Feheley of the Feheley Fine Arts gallery in Toronto agreed. “It’s the most unusual of this collection. It doesn’t look like anything else she’s ever done,” she told Nunatsiaq News.
As for Pitsiulak’s whales, Feheley commends the mastery of his form, pointing out how he drew on the same subject using different mediums, both stonecut and etching.
“That’s a lot of the genius of the Kinngait studio,” she said.
Pitsiulak said the whales were created from his imagination.
“That’s a large part of drawing and being an artist. It’s all from imagination,” said Pitsiulak, who travelled to Iqaluit for the launch of the collection.
He said he couldn’t resist coming, as he enjoys meeting people and seeing old friends.
Pitsiulak, who taught himself to draw at a young age, works at the Kinngait studio depending on the weather — although sometimes he says he choses to go hunting if it’s nice out.
Dressed in a black jacket with a logo of the Kinngait stamp and a ball cap, Pitsiulak said he’s glad this year’s collection is dedicated to the West Baffin Co-op, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009.
And it’s a good gesture, because the United Nations also declared 2012 as the international year of the co-operative.
Pitsiulak hopes younger people in Cape Dorset will get involved with the art of drawing and printmaking, too, “because making art must continue on and on.”
Cape Dorset art is world-renowned, he said, with its print collection opening every year at galleries all over Canada, the U.S. and internationally.
Pitsiulak’s prints are the second most expensive in this year’s collection, priceed right behind Ashevak’s, whose works sell for about $1,800 each.
“I’m very happy people are noticing my work,” Pitsiulak said.
Prints by lesser-known artists are priced between $400 and $800.
However, all of the prints are in high demand, says Feheley said.
And it’s not unusual for the prints to eventually resell for $18,000 to $20,000, she said.
In Toronto, people have been known to line up in the early morning with sleeping bags and chairs for a chance to bid on prints at Feheley Fine Arts.
Last year, Feheley said she unlocked the door two hours early so people wouldn’t get cold.
The Cape Dorset print collection will show at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit until Dec. 9.