Internationally Renowned Canadian First Nations Artist Daphne Odjig at the Penticton Art Gallery

by Katie Brennan
On March 23rd, the Penticton Art Gallery opened a new exhibition of work by internationally renowned Canadian First Nations Artist and Okanagan resident, Daphne Odjig. I had a chance to catch up with Penticton Art Gallery Curator Paul Crawford to learn more about the show. Here’s our conversation.

KB: What is important for gallery visitor’s to know about Daphne and her work going in?  (certain themes, motifs to look for, etc).

PC: Daphne Odjig is one of Canada’s most celebrated Aboriginal painters and printmakers. Born on Manitoulin Island’s Wikwemikong reserve of Odawa, Potawatomi and English heritage, she first learned about art-making from her grandfather, Jonas Odjig, a tombstone carver who taught her to draw and paint. She later moved to British Columbia. Odjig’s style, which underwent several developments and adaptations from decade to decade, manages to always remain identifiable. Mixing traditional Aboriginal styles and imagery with Cubist and Surrealist influences, Odjig’s work is defined by curving contours, strong outlining, overlapping shapes and an unsurpassed sense of colour. Her work has addressed issues of colonization, the displacement of Aboriginal peoples, and the status of Aboriginal women and children, bringing Aboriginal political issues to the forefront of contemporary art practices and theory. The jury described Daphne Odjig’s work as “groundbreaking”, noting her unique voice and her role as a “real champion” of Aboriginal artists. 


KB: Where else has Daphne’s work been presented recently?
PC: Over the last few years there have been numerous exhibitions of Daphne Odjig’s works touring across North America. Forty years of her prints have been shown in Kamloops, BC and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, ON; while forty years of her originals were shown in Sudbury and Klienburg, ON; Kamloops, BC; The Institute of American Indian Art in Sante Fe, NM; Regina, SK and the National Gallery in Ottawa where Daphne was the first Aboriginal female to be given a major solo exhibition. Daphne was also the driving force behind the native group of seven which consisted of Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez
She currently lives in Penticton.

KB: That’s an impressive resume. Any idea of how she feel about it?

PC: Reflecting back on her legacy Daphne has said: “If my work as an artist has somehow helped to open doors between our people and the non-Native community, then I am glad. I am even more deeply pleased if it has helped to encourage the young people that have followed our generation to express their pride in our heritage more openly, more joyfully than I would have ever dared to think possible. I see my paintings as a celebration of life. My sub-conscious mind may well dictate some content and I’m content to leave it at that. I am uncomfortable with words — my paintings are perhaps my most honest and legitimate statement.” – Daphne Odjig quote taken from “Odjig: The Art of Daphne Odjig, 1960-2000”, essays by Bob Boyer and Carol Podedworny

KB: Where do you see Daphne’s work fitting into the artistic community of Penticton? And the Canadian art scene at large?

PC: When Daphne moved to Penticton from Anglemont she was winding down her artistic production and as such her influence here has not been as profound as it would have been has she been actively involved in our arts community. That being said she casts a large shadow across the Canadian cultural landscape and its hard to not feel the impact her artistic legacy has had on both the First Nations and non First Nations communities. By virtue of the public’s response to this exhibit its hard not to see the incredible impact Daphne has had on the community and the region.

In terms of Canada one needs to only look at the impressive list of accolades she has received along with her her numerous international and Canadian solo exhibitions including one at the Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery of Canada where she was the first female aboriginal artist to be given a solo exhibit. If this were not proof enough collectors are scrambling to acquire the ever dwindling number of works in private hands which has driven the incredible price her work is commanding on the secondary art market. Sadly this has has put the prospect of owning an original work beyond the reach of many.


KB:  Why does the Kamloops Art Gallery hold so many pieces of Odjig’s work in their collection? Are there any held in the Okanagan?

PC: The Kamloops art gallery has done an amazing job collecting and putting together in depth collections documenting the life and careers of many well known Canadian artists. These in-depth collections are invaluable as they document the chronological progression, growth and development of an artists vision over the course of their career and provide a unique window into art history. The gallery under the direction of their Director Jann Bailey has been very methodical in its efforts to collect comprehensive and representative examples of work documenting the careers of the artists in their collection.

As for works held in the collections of any of the Public Galleries here in the Okanagan, I am not certain but I do know that the Penticton Art Gallery sadly does not have any examples of her work in our collection. That being said we would be open to talking to anyone who would be interested in making a donation …. 

KB: Lastly, what is a serigraph? I noticed most of the prints were done in this medium.

PC: Serigraphs, also known as silk-screens, is an exacting printmaking technique in which paint or inks are pushed through a fine screen–usually made of silk or nylon—using a squeegee to transfer the image onto the canvas or fine art paper. The printer uses a different screen for each color in the print. The result is a richly, deeply colored artwork that has many of the qualities of a fine-art painting. Most Serigraphs are “limited-edition” artworks, meaning that the printer creates only a specified number of prints and then destroys the materials used to create them.


Daphne Odjig – A Tribute to Courage
Featuring 73 works from the Kamloops Art Gallery’s permanent collection  continues through Sunday May 13th.
ON NOW at the Penticton Art Gallery:
Daphne Odjig – A Tribute to Courage
Featuring 73 works from the Kamloops Art Gallery’s permanent collection
Visual Diversions
Featuring work created by School District 67’s Secondary School Art Student
Exhibit Dates: March 23 – May 13th, 2012
The Penticton Art Gallery
199 Marina Way, Penticton, BC
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