Tradition meets contemporary in Bill Reid Gallery’s new art exhibition

The largest collection of paintings ever exhibited at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art will be on display in Vancouver from June 15 to March 19, 2023.

Entitled “True to Place: stímetstexw tel xéltel”, the exhibition will feature multimedia paintings on a variety of mediums, including canvas, wood, paper, sculptural forms, traditional basketry and digital, by emerging artists and established on the west coast. The exhibition celebrates the blending of traditional artistic practices with contemporary styles.

Artist and muralist Xémontalót Carrielynn Victor (Stó:lō) is the guest curator of this exhibition. As she began her work with the Reids to discuss the exhibit’s sub-themes, she said a few ideas came to her. The strongest was “True to Place”. Similar to the phrase “rooted in place,” which she says refers to the concept of place-based storytelling.

“It is a very old and important practice among people to share the stories of their place orally, and now through visual art, and to teach, not only to those who are from that place but also to the guests who came here, its history. How were the mountains formed? How was the sturgeon born? said Victor, giving examples.

This led Victor to start looking for artists who practiced location-based storytelling in their work. The 10 selected include local Coast Salish artists, but also neighbors along the coast to Alaska.

Contributing artists include Atheana Picha, Corey Bulpitt, Crystal Worl, Eliot White-Hill, Luke Parnell, Ocean Hyland, Robert Davidson, Shawn Hunt, Steve Smith and Thomas Jones. Their work is inspired by contemporary issues, urban environments and ancestral stories.

“As we started the theme and selected the artists, we started to realize that language came up as a sub-theme as well,” Victor said. “Because once you start talking about stories and local histories in indigenous cultures, naturally the language, where it’s still alive and still practiced, becomes associated with those stories and themes.”

Artist and language keeper Thomas Jones was then hired to help create the exhibition’s subtitle ‘stímetstexw tel xéltel’, taken from the Upriver Stahlo Halq’emeylemqel dialect. It means ‘Keeping the pencil forward’ and is important to the contemporary style of the exhibition and the theme of moving forward from a place of history and tradition.

“In conversation with Thomas, he said ‘oh, it sounds like you’re doing your best to use the tools of the day, and it’s like you’re doing your best but using your genuine good intention.

‘Tel’ refers to the tool. ‘xeltel’ is a word itself older than pencil, so it’s about marking, making your mark, or the tool used to mark things,” Victor said.

The word can be used in various contexts, but in this case it refers to a pen, pencil or brush.

While remaining focused on the pencil or pen, curators began to build on the word marking tool, which led to the final sub-theme, something very dear to Victor’s heart. In her own work as a muralist, she started using an iPad and a digital pencil to properly write her designs on her device.

“What I’ve found in starting to use digital design, in this particular form, is that I use all the same gestures, I use all the same ways of thinking and it’s kind of like paint. So Beth Carter (curator at Reid) and I started looking around for artists who were drawing by hand with a digital platform. And in any case, the artists we had already selected also presented digital works of a hand-drawn nature.

Victor herself designed the title image of the exhibition – a red brushstroke – calling it both extremely simple yet extremely meaningful as it is an earth-based ocher blended with a gel/acrylic medium and applied to canvas with a brush.

“I thought it would make a good title image for the show, because it brings the tools of the past forward with the tools of the future. It’s just one line on a page and I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s it!'”

Events that the public can participate in will also be organized throughout the year to allow visitors to try their hand at hands-on workshops. Details are still being worked out.

For more information on the exhibit, visit: https://mpmgarts.com/media/campaigns/bill-reid-gallery-true-to-place/

Windspeaker.com

By Rebecca Medel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com

Christopher S. Washington