Tuesday, January 23, 2018

First Nations artists’ collaboration explores the meaning of form

January 8, 2018 by Adam Boyle, staff writer

When you think of the letter A and how it is formed, what kind of meaning comes to mind? This is the sort of question the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s exhibit Form as Meaning: First Nations Prints from the Pacific Northwest focuses on. The exhibit, made up of works from the art gallery’s permanent collection, is curated by First Nations artists from some of the many different cultures around BC. Coast Salish artist Leslie Robert Sam, who goes by his decolonized, artist name lessLIE, is one of the curators; he says that the form of First Nations art can have many meanings.

“The exhibit relates to how the form of contemporary northwestern First Nations art prints can relate to the contemporary world as well as traditional content,” says lessLIE. “My particular curatorial process was about how the design elements are comparable to letters of the alphabet and how that can spell meanings with old traditions. Basically we were tasked with looking at the collection of prints that the art gallery had and, as a group, selected works that best fit this. Each of us co-curators also wrote up a curatorial statement.”

Working with a large group was a rewarding challenge for lessLIE. The artist says that there were a lot of ideas floating around because there were so many cultures represented.

A 2008 serigraph from local artist lessLIE, a curator of Form as Meaning (photo provided).

“It was a challenge, but it was a good challenge, because one of the first things I realized was that I could only speak about the works from my culture or from artists that I was inspired by. It was great to have a diversity of representation,” he says. “I was thankful to be there, because sometimes you find people who know about Coast Salish art but don’t recognize it as a northwestern art and that it’s linked to other art traditions in the northwest. In some ways, I’m representing my culture by partaking as a co-curator.”

As for lessLIE’s own artistic output, he says that he tries to expand his styles but it’s not the kind of thing that can happen overnight.

“When it comes to the graphic works, I’m quite slow; I don’t try to push too much. One of the things that’s emphasized in the contemporary northwest coast art market is individuality, which I understand is important, but an artist can’t really force that to happen; it’s something that happens over time,” he says. “For myself, I don’t think my style has changed very much, but I try to diversify. I try and explore other mediums like carving, sandblasting glass and wood, and by using metal pieces that I work with.”

lessLIE was drawn to art at an early age. Although he didn’t start professionally until later, he says that some of the shows he used to watch when he was young were huge inspirations for him and that he was always drawn to their design and style.

“I’ve had the dream since I was six years old,” he says. “My grandfather carved for the tourist market and that inspired me to learn more about art. I also had these influences like watching Transformers, Popeye, Pac-Man, and horror movies that made me interested in the creative process of special effects, scriptwriting, and things like that. I didn’t really become an artist full-time until I was in my late 20s, but the artistic interest and drive was always there, my whole life.”

Form as Meaning: First Nations Prints from the Pacific Northwest
Until Sunday, April 29
Free, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

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