July 24, 2014

Gallery Birds: Christi Belcourt

This Saturday the Art Gallery of Ontario is opening a new exhibition called Before and After the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes. The show contains both historical and contemporary works by a wide spectrum of Anishinaabe artists. Familiar names like Norval Morriseau, Arthur Shilling, and Robert Houle command their share of the space, but luckily so do some younger contemporary artists like Christi Belcourt.

Belcourt, who was the recipient of the 2014 Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award, paints her large acrylic canvases in a pointilist style recalling the beadwork on traditional bandolier bags, leggings, and saddleblankets, examples of which can also be found in the exhibit. And two of her large canvases are on display at the AGO now.

So Much Depends Upon Who Holds The Shovel (2008) is on loan to the show from the collection of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and has a wall to itself in the show proper. It's the first work of hers that I saw and I couldn't help noticing immediately (thanks to my countless early mornings) that the birds weren't just stylized "birds", but they were all - or almost all - real species.

So Much Depends Upon Who Holds the Shovel (detail)
A Blue-winged Warbler sings on both sides of the mirrored canvas, while another bird (perhaps a Nashville Warbler with that white eye ring?) sits behind him.

Many of Belcourt's plants are real species too, while others are stylized flowers reminiscent of those beaded by the artist's Métis ancestors, who were historically known as the "flower beadwork people". The plants she chooses are those used in traditional medicine or ceremonies and all grow from a shared stem in her work, while the stars of the universe twinkle in the background. Belcourt's work is all about biodiversity and the harmony and interconnectedness of all life.

The AGO recently commissioned a work by Belcourt for their Canadian collection and The Wisdom of the Universe arrived just last week. Of Belcourt's two paintings, this one is even larger than So Much Depends... and is the one that most visitors will encounter first.

Even more bird species are featured in The Wisdom of the Universe: Cerulean Warblers; a Mourning Dove; two Black-capped Chickadees; a pair of American Robins; a female and male Ruby-throated Hummingbird; and a young empidonax flycatcher (probably Willow or Alder with those buff wingbars).

If you can get to the AGO, I urge you to check out this fantastic show, which includes this chance to see Christi Belcourt's impressive work.

Before and After the Horizon is on at the AGO from July 26 through November 25

And check out Christi Belcourt's site:http://www.christibelcourt.com/

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