Daphne Odjig: Full Circle
September 20th to October 24th, 2014

Dancing Nudes
Dancing Nudes, c.1958
pastel on paper, 18" × 14"
Xmas Shoppers
Xmas Shoppers, 1962
oil on masonite, 20" × 24"
The Pub
The Pub, 1962
oil on board, 24" × 30"
Untitled (Nanabush and Beaver Playing the Flute)
Untitled (Nanabush and Beaver Playing the Flute), 1968
acrylic on paper, 34.5" × 23"
Nanabush and the Birds
Nanabush and the Birds, c.1968
acrylic and mixed media on paper, 36" × 24.5"
Peace Pipe Smoker
Peace Pipe Smoker, c.1968
pastel on paper, 36.5" × 24.5"
The Medicine Dream
The Medicine Dream, 1970
acrylic on paper, 36" × 24"
Untitled, 1973
Untitled, 1973
acrylic on paper, 20" × 15"
The Special One
The Special One, 1975
acrylic on canvas, 33.75" × 27.25"
Looking into the Future
Looking into the Future, 1977
pastel and ink on paper, 12" × 10.25"
Shopping in the Walled City
Shopping in the Walled City, 1977
acrylic on canvas, 24" × 18"
The Brothers
The Brothers, 1977
acrylic on canvas, 36" × 34"
The Little People
The Little People, 1977
acrylic on canvas, 26" × 24"
In My Sunday Best
In My Sunday Best, 1978
acrylic on canvas, 24" × 20"
Picking Flowers
Picking Flowers, 1978
ink and watercolours on paper, 14.5" × 10.5"
My World, Their World
My World, Their World, 1979
acrylic on canvas, 26" × 24"
Untitled, 1980
Untitled, 1980
pen and ink on paper, 17" × 14.5"
The Four Winds
The Four Winds, 1981
oil and pastel on paper, 28" × 22"
Awakening to Light
Awakening to Light, 1981
acrylic on canvas, 24" × 20"
Faces and Moon
Faces and Moon, 1981
acrylic on canvas, 24" × 22"
A Bright Day Ahead
A Bright Day Ahead, 1984
acrylic on canvas, 20" × 16"
Pride
Pride, 1982
acrylic on canvas, 48" × 40"
A Child's World
A Child's World, 1983
acrylic on canvas, 24" × 20"
A Living Relationship
A Living Relationship, 1984
acrylic on canvas, 16" × 12"
Grandpa and Grandma and Siblings
Grandpa and Grandma and Siblings, 1984
line drawing on paper, 16.5" × 15.5"
Odjig Family
Odjig Family; Father, Mother, Grandfather,Stanley,
Daphne, Donald, Winnie, Xmas, Dec 25th
, 1986
acrylic on canvas, 48" × 40"
Drama of the Ages
Drama of the Ages, c.1989
acrylic on canvas, 34" × 30"
Trapped in Isolation
Trapped in Isolation, c.1989
ink on paper, 15" × 13"
Untitled, 1991
Untitled, 1991
coloured pencil on paper, 14.5" × 10.5"
Cleansing of the Spirit on Dreamers Rock
Cleansing of the Spirit on Dreamers Rock, c.2008
oil on board, 10" × 9"

Slideshow

Daphne Odjig – Full Circle – Five Decades of Painting

In honour of Daphne Odjig on her 95th birthday

Daphne Odjig was born in 1919 on the Unceded Indian Reserve of Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, the first child of Dominick Odjig, a Pottawatomi World War I veteran and his English war bride Joyce Peachey. Forced to withdraw from school at the age of twelve due to illness, Daphne received much of her early artistic training from her grandfather Jonas, who was the village stone carver and a gifted storyteller. The two spent many hours together drawing and talking. From Jonas the young girl learned the value of the old Anishinaabe ways and the joy of transferring line and form, the things she saw and the things she thought, onto paper. She also discovered the intense satisfaction that focus and discipline in the pursuit of art can bring. These values carried her forward into a life of hard work, dedication, and unwavering optimism and warmth, even as her commitment to the cause of Aboriginal art grew and her belief in her own artistic expression deepened.

The rich tranquility of life at Wikwemikong was shattered in 1938 when her mother died and Daphne and her younger sister Winnie left Manitoulin Island for the town of Parry Sound to look for work. It was not an easy transition. For a teenager with little formal education and the Indian surname Odjig in a small northern town, even domestic employment was hard to find. She began to call herself Fisher, the English translation of Odjig, hoping the name change would open the door to better job opportunities. But life was difficult and when World War II broke out she relocated herself and Winnie to Toronto where the war effort had made factory work plentiful. She was twenty years old.

Daphne Odjig outside the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, 1987
Daphne Odjig outside the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, 1987

Daphne found work in a peanut factory and on a war munitions assembly line and for a time even in a dog food plant. She made a home for Winnie and herself in a boarding house in downtown Toronto, working hard during the day and taking in the sights and the big city nightlife in the evenings. She and Winnie were both outgoing, charming, and very good dancers. It’s not hard to imagine the two of them – little Winnie and taller, protective Daphne, laughing and talking, surrounded by admirers and friends. On weekends, Daphne spent hours looking at the paintings in the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum, observing, studying, making drawings, taking notes, quietly and painstakingly teaching herself to paint.

The two sisters were inseparable. So when Winnie moved to British Columbia after the war, Daphne went too. They both married. Winnie married George, Daphne married Paul, and the two families settled near one another, always close. Daphne kept up her art even as her family grew to include two sons, David and Stanley. She created pictures on her kitchen table, sometimes on canvas harvested from old tents when art supplies were scarce. In 1962, Winnie, who was always an enthusiastic supporter of her sister’s artistic efforts, submitted Theatre Queue, an oil painting in an impressionistic style signed with the name Daphne Fisher, to a juried competition in Vancouver. The following year on the strength of that painting, Daphne was admitted to the British Columbia Federation of Artists. Theatre Queue is a confident, competent picture and a good example of the artist’s style at the time: derivative of the contemporary European tradition, realistic, with a strong reference to the French impressionists. The story of Daphne’s professional artistic life from this point could have followed a fairly predictable trajectory had not events suddenly taken her in a completely unexpected direction.

Daphne married Chester Beavon in 1962 following the death of her first husband. They moved to northern Manitoba where Chester was employed as a community development officer for the Department of Indian Affairs. Over the course of the next four years the couple witnessed many instances of poverty and despair on the Indian reserves in the region. In particular, the shocking social conditions at Easterville Manitoba where the Chemahawin Cree had been relocated to make room for a dam at Grand Rapids, opened a floodgate of inspiration and drive in Daphne that resulted in a series of pen and ink drawings depicting in realistic fashion the situation on the reserve and the hardship and endurance of the people forced to live there. Two years later, during a visit to Wikwemikong in 1964 at the community’s fourth annual powwow, Daphne found herself similarly inspired and ignited with conviction. The story of the people, their rich cultural history, and the miracle of their survival needed to be told. She embarked on a series of legend paintings, illustrations of the tales of Nanabush and other stories told her by the elders on the island. These drawings and paintings are among the first examples of the artist’s new idiosyncratic style. Calligraphic, rhythmic in line, the forms emerge as if the artist’s brush had never left the page but travelled in an unbroken dancing movement across its surface. She’d found a compelling reason to paint and a profound source of inspiration. She’d also found a personal visual vernacular with which to express her ideas. From this date she began to sign her work with her birth name, Daphne Odjig.

Again, her story could have settled there. But further contact with the elders on Manitoulin Island, facilitated by her sister-in-law Rosemary Peltier, acquainted her with her own family’s proud ancestry and the history of her Anishinaabe forebears, and motivated her to paint accounts of Aboriginal military and social history from the colonial past. Always a teacher, Daphne knew instinctively that these Anishinaabe stories could contribute to a desperately needed rebirth of hope and confidence in Aboriginal communities. The Woodland School of painters was gaining recognition and her emerging legend style situated itself easily within the idiom made famous by Norval Morrisseau. But she was not content to rest her creativity within an established genre. Experimenting with subject matter, materials, formats, and styles, Daphne fearlessly pushed the boundaries of what was expected of Aboriginal and women painters. During the next twenty years she created a series of history pictures, narrative murals, and complex painted chronicles that are unrivaled in their passionate expression and artistic innovation, developing an unmistakable approach and characteristic gesture that is recognizable even through the many variations of style and technique she used.

During these years from her home base in Winnipeg Manitoba, Daphne became a vocal advocate for Aboriginal art and artists, arguing that they and their work belonged within the mainstream of Canadian fine art practice and discourse and should be exhibited as such within Canadian public galleries. To further this conviction she helped found Professional Native Artists Incorporated, (the collective also known as the Indian Group of Seven) whose members included Norval Morrisseau, Alex Janvier, Eddy Cobiness, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez and Jackson Beardy. To address the distribution needs of this prolific group and her own work, she established the first Native-run fine art print house, Odjig Indian Prints, and to provide exhibition space for the work she and her colleagues were producing she opened the first Indian-owned gallery in Winnipeg, the New Warehouse Gallery. In addition to her foundational work in Manitoba, Daphne participated in conferences, gatherings, educational programs, and youth activities across the country. Her early activism in these crucial areas continues to be an inspiration and role model for emerging and established Aboriginal artists and curators to this day.

During the mid 1980s she changed focus again. Her paintings became poetic, less fierce, more reflective and interior. She began to paint about her memories from childhood, her family, and the island. Her new work also depicted the impact of dire ecological and environmental issues unfolding in her new home in interior British Columbia. Accolades and honours began to pour in. She was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1986, received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1998, was presented with a Governor General’s Award in Visual Arts in 2007, and was featured in a series of Canadian post stamps in 2011. In addition, several universities acknowledged her contribution to education, social justice, and the fine arts by awarding her Honorary Doctorate Degrees: in Letters, from Laurentian University in 1982, in Law from the University of Toronto in 1985, in Education from Nipissing University in 1997, and in Fine Arts from the Ontario College of Art and Design University in 2008.

Throughout her long life’s journey, her sister Winnie remained a steadfast companion and supporter, best friend and confidante, often travelling with her to exhibitions, residencies, and celebrations in Chester’s stead. Over the years, Winnie accumulated a significant personal collection of Daphne’s paintings and drawings including several outstanding examples of Daphne’s various styles, subjects, and perspectives. Her collection is a monument to the artist’s curious, intrepid, and committed life.

By Bonnie Devine, September 2014


Slideshow

Daphne OdjigDaphne Odjig, Canadian Indigenous Artist and Icon Dies at 97. Click here for more details.

Odjig is frequently referred to as the "Grandmother of Indigenous Art." She has been the recipient of many awards, honours and recognitions for her works, to name a few: The Order of Canada, the Governor General's Award, and eight Honorary Doctorates. Her works have been shown in the National Gallery of Canada, The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Art Gallery of Ontario.


She established the first native-run fine art print house in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1971. Known as 'Odjig Indian Prints,' this print house was so successful that it evolved into an Indigenous gallery space in 1974, called the New Warehouse Gallery, run by Odjig and her husband, Chester Beavon. She was also a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven. This artistic group's purpose was to promote Contemporary Indigenous art and artists.

Alex JanvierAlex Janvier's major retrospective, "Alex Janvier: Modern Indigenous Master" is now open at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario until January 21st, 2018. Afterwards, it will travel to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

This exhibition was recently on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. Alex Janvier is one of Canada's most acclaimed contemporary artists. His career of sixty-five years has yielded thousands of paintings, and more than twenty-five murals and public commissions. (Photo credit: Kim Griffiths)

Rita LetendreGallery Gevik congratulates renowned Canadian and International abstract painter, Rita Letendre, on her first major museum retrospective exhibition outside of Québec. Rita Letendre: Fire and Light is now open until September 17, 2017 at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

This exhibition, which covers Letendre's career from the 1960's to 2000's, is co-curated by Wanda Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik. The retrospective features nearly forty large-scale paintings drawn from major national public and private collections.

Letendre was widely exhibited with the artistic groups, Les Automatistes and Les Plasticiens. She has received the Governor General's Award in Visual Arts, the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, and the Orders of Canada, Ontario and Québec. Click here for more details.