An Ojibwe Artist’s Perspective On Picasso
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As an Ojibwe artist, I was pleased to see Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) exhibition of 147 works by the famous artist Pablo Picasso. The reason I looked forward to seeing this exhibit was because I was fascinated by his sophisticated, yet often primitive representations of a host of subjects. It’s in the way that Picasso masterfully reduced subjects to a raw assemblage of shapes, textures and colors that intrigued me. I felt that, as an Ojibwe Artist, I could learn more about how to bring freedom of form and spontaneity of color and movement to my own work.

The show consists of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and assemblages that were in the collection of the artist at the time of his death. They afford the viewer with a look into the personal life of the artist. It was like reading his diary. His two marriages and several affairs at once showed a human side of Picasso, while at the same time explaining his artistic inspiration through sexuality. A number of themes, aside from the sexual, arose throughout the collection, such as the guitar player, or simply the guitar itself, or the use of still life subjects, or the integration of African Art style into his work. His skill as an artist, as well as his evolution, was astounding. The exhibition delineated the various periods that Picasso passed through. Within that journey, the artist showed his greatness by inventing with fellow artist Georges Braque the artistic technique and medium of collage, and the art style of “Cubism”.

The exhibit threads it’s way through the early years of Picasso with his relationship with Fernande Olivier, and journey’s through relationships with Marie-Therese Walter, Dora Maar, Francoise Gilot, and concludes with Jacqueline Roque.

In viewing the exhibition I felt that Picasso was exceptional at taking risks. That fit with his rejection of authority, and his determination to do things his own way. He was very much an individualist.

All art is built upon previous art, and with my work I am grateful for certain lessons and ideas that he gave to me. My particular type of  Ojibwe art would not exist if it weren’t for the invention of ‘collage’. I owe Picasso and Braque my eternal thanks for that. Beyond the technical, though, I’ve been inspired by Picasso to put into my pictures whatever is needed, and not what reality and nature dictate. It is the pictorial work that matters, and nothing more. This is a lesson that I also learned after attending the exhibition of work by Marc Chagall at the AGO in 2011. His work exuded considerable spontaneity, and a freedom from conventional realism.

In my work, I use swatches of color and texture, but I very deliberately conform those swatches to the Canadian aboriginal Woodland style of representation. However, I’m sometimes impacted by certain forms and symbols from non-Anishinabek art (Ojibwe Art), and the influence from the masterwork “Guernica” exemplifies this. Picasso’s large mural of the Nazi bombing of the Basque town of Guernica is powerful. I’ve studied it many times, marveling at the seeming spontaneity, and the anguish that it portrays. Of particular interest to me was the lamp that hovers above the horse. To me, that spoke of the ‘eye of God’. I never forgot that image, and the potential symbolism that it could carry. In my work I have frequently used the ‘eye of God’ symbol to complete the spiritual narrative of a picture. North American aboriginal art has often used spiritual symbols in works of art, but there is no widely accepted symbol that denotes the presence of ‘the great spirit’. I use the ’eye of God’ symbol, but customize the symbol to fit with the spiritual scenes that I create. For example, “The Greeting Party“, or the “Transformed Healer Battling A Sickness Spirit“. (see Kodjearts Ojibwe Art Gallery collection) Both have the all seeing eye of the ‘Great Spirit’.

The exhibition doesn’t show all of Picasso works at their best. As such, many pictures are an unpolished view of the life and psyche of the artist.

I encourage all who can and are relatively unfamiliar  with Picasso’s work to please take some time to stroll about the AGO exhibit and get acquainted with the work and life of an artistic genius. For those who are familiar with the artist’s work, come and enjoy this rare opportunity to see what the artist kept for himself. As well, I also invite you, the reader, to examine my gallery and let me know if you see influences from Picasso, and even Chagall, in my Ojibwe art.

The Picasso exhibit runs until mid-august 2012.

Wayne Kodje

   Sunday, 08 July 2012 20:18    PDF Print E-mail

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