Art truly is a universal language that can communicate any idea, any feeling, of anyone, regardless of their social standing, their religious beliefs or the language they speak.
This major retrospective, organized by the National Gallery of Canada, spans the entirety of Alex Janvier’s 65-plus year career. The exhibition features more than 150 artworks showing the evolution of Janvier’s unique vision. Rooted in the geocultural landscape of his northern Alberta home, Janvier’s works on paper, canvas and linen combine Dene iconography with Western abstract art styles and techniques.
His paintings tell the story of his experiences, as a boy in residential school, through learning about art as a student, to the many years of working as a professional artist putting his work out there for all to see. And, over those many years, conveying what it means to be an Indigenous person in a country that, for a long time, sought only to eradicate any sense of self-identification or connection to one’s Indigeneity. Viewers connect to the beauty and truth about humanity that comes through the paintings.
(Greg Hill, Audain Senior Curator of Indigenous Art, National Gallery of Canada)
What does this exhibition mean to you? This career retrospective means many hopes for nearly all indigenous peoples of Canada, and probably for people around the world. This retrospective is a testimony that nothing comes easy from the start.
You’ve inspired and influenced many people. Who inspires you? The two most important influencers in my life are Carlo Altenberg and Father Etienne Bernet-Rollande. Carlo was a professor who tutored me in the 1950s. Father Etienne was the principal at Blue Quills Indian Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. This man introduced me to the world of painting and encouraged me to be creative.
You’ve explored so many different forms in your work. Even your recent work demonstrates new approaches. What pushes you to keep experimenting when you could easily settle into a single, distinctive style? A son of a traditional chief and a hunter with the tribal influence must be extremely resourceful in observing the surrounding land. Nature has influenced many artists, musicians and, story tellers and has given humanity gifts to be shared by all.
You have stated that your “paintbrush is the most powerful weapon you can use.” Could you describe how art has empowered you? My paintbrush is really my most powerful tool because it is available for my personal empowerment. Art has empowered me by allowing me the freedom to paint what I want, when I want. I truly enjoy creating art. My works can provide an opportunity to inspire others to come closer to the spirit of our Creator, Yedairye.