In Vancouver, we’re surrounded by Northwest Coast art, from the totem poles in Stanley Park to the intricate sculptures in the Bill Reid Gallery. Even if you’re not a big fan, you can probably instantly recognize the style – bold colors, clearly outlined forms and a repetition of basic shapes.
All of which makes a new exhibition of Northwest Coast art at downtown’s Blanket Contemporary Art gallery unique. The show by local artist Shawn Hunt offers a dramatically new, and sometimes controversial, take on a tradition that stretches back thousands of years.
Hunt’s pieces use unconventional colors and distort common shapes. He also tackles taboo subjects, like eroticism and cultural conflict, that rarely surface in traditional aboriginal art.
Hunt first earned notoriety several years ago for a playful take on Bill Reid’s epic Raven and the First Men, the sculpture depicting a raven perched atop a clam shell with the first men inside. In Hunt’s version, the raven perches instead on top of a can of Campbell’s Clam Chowder – a reference to Andy Warhol’s famous soup cans.
The current exhibit at the Blanket gallery is full of similarly provocative works that mix native and Western art traditions (Hunt himself was trained at home in aboriginal art and later studied at UBC). Many pieces play with cherished conventions of the aboriginal tradition – including the use of oval (ovoid) shapes and the formline, the dark line that outlines all figures in typical Northwest Coast art.
There are nudes and works that make reference to Picasso. There are pieces painted on cedar bark that abandon the traditional canvas altogether. There’s even a raven sculpture called Raven GT that has a red racing stripe painted along its beak. Nearly all pieces push – and often break through – the accepted bounds of aboriginal art.
Shawn Hunt’s show runs through Oct. 15 at the Blanket Contemporary Art gallery at 560 Seymour St.
Has anyone seen Shawn Hunt’s show? What did you think of the “updated” take on aboriginal art?