Art style

Northwest Coast art style reimagined in Luke Parnell’s new exhibit

Northwest Coast artist Luke Parnell views his creative process as a form of storytelling. While studying sculpture in his youth, Parnell, born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia in 1971, says his only references to artists working in the Northwest Coast style were the famous production of artists Robert Davidson. and Bill Reid.

In his youth, Parnell was naturally drawn to artistic creation and had been greatly inspired by comics like X-Men and, to a lesser extent, characters like Batman.

When he first saw a National Film Board documentary on Bill Reid, Parnell was puzzled at Reid’s claim that he didn’t think the Northwest Coast style “could go.” much further than what it is now ”.

“You know, I’m not trying to stretch the boundaries of the artwork. I just do what I want to do, and I see it as part of the storytelling tradition, ”Parnell explained over the phone from his home in Toronto.

Parnell is Wilp (house) Laxgiik (eagle clan) Nisga’a from Gingolx on his mother’s side and Haida from Massett, Haida Gwaii on his father’s side. He first mentored Tsimshian master sculptor Henry Green for three years before moving to Toronto in his early twenties to earn a bachelor’s degree from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). He then returned to the West Coast for a few years to study for an MA at Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Today, he is a well-established multidisciplinary artist who teaches at OCAD and has exhibited his work in galleries such as the MacLaren Art Center, the National Gallery of Canada, the Contemporary Indigenous Art Biennale. of Montreal and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. . Parnell was also artist in residence at the Cervantino International Festival and the Banff Center for the Arts and Creativity.

A new solo exhibition of Parnell’s work titled Indigenous History in Color will begin at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver on February 3 and run through May 9 with an online opening ceremony to be hosted by the gallery on 2 February.

The exhibition, which premiered at the MKG127 gallery in Toronto in July 2020, will mark Parnell’s first exhibition at the Vancouver gallery. He will present several works by the artist made in recent years and will present creations in several disciplines that transcend his traditional work as a sculptor.

Among the many pieces included, the exhibition will feature a new collaborative work titled Neon Reconciliation Explosion, which Parnell initially conducted on an experimental basis during the Home Away Home 2018 contemporary art festival in Toronto.

Deeply disappointed with concept of ‘reconciliation’ after murder trials of non-Indigenous men accused in the murders of Indigenous teenager Sagkeeng Tina Fontaine and 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie when both ended in acquittals Parnell conceived of the project as a way of carrying out community “research”.

“I was really exploring. It was like research in a way. I didn’t really understand the concept of “reconciliation” myself and that was the purpose of the artwork. I was trying to come to terms with it myself, so I asked (the participants) to be honest about what they were doing, and I left the last panel for me, ”Parnell explained.

Neon Reconciliation Explosion is an expansive piece where Parnell drew a large design on 44 16 inch by 16 inch panels which he distributed to the 55 community members attending the event. They were asked to create something on each panel that would represent what “reconciliation” meant to them. The central panel was completed by Parnell himself after all the other panels were painted by the other participants.

“I really struggled with that because I didn’t want people to feel like I was gaslighting them or that I had some sort of ulterior motive from the start,” Parnell said. “But I also had to be honest with what ‘reconciliation’ meant to me, and that’s why I finished the play the way I did. ”

Numerous works included in his upcoming exhibition Indigenous History in Color demonstrate the artist’s interest in working in disciplines outside of his original practice as a sculptor, and explore Parnell’s passion and willingness to blend images and methods. traditional with contemporary images and methods.

The exhibition includes a large print of a digital artwork that he originally created for his Instagram account called Bear Mother, a work that was not originally intended to be displayed in a gallery environment.

“Before doing Bear Mother, I didn’t really work with color. I mainly worked with black and red. And so the piece Bear Mother was actually a way for me to learn more about working with color, ”Parnell explained.

To create Bear Mother Parnell used the Procreate app on his iPad, which made it easy for him to experiment with color without investing a huge amount of time, and it’s something he’s excited to continue working with on future. projects.

“Because I come from a tradition of sculpture the stakes are very high and once you start a sculpture you just have to follow the plan you create until you are done with it”, Parnell explained. “Once you’ve designed a room, there’s not much creativity left in the process until you’re done and move on to the next room. I’ve always been looking for something where I can get creative really quickly and then get it done in days rather than weeks. So I love it.

Another interesting work included in Bill Reid’s exhibition will be Parnell’s first exploration in cinema. Dedicated to the idea that the creative process is the true essence of his practice, Parnell believes that it is the process that creates the story, which in turn enriches the cultural reservoir.

In 1959, Bill Reid was the subject of a documentary in which he led an expedition to “salvage” historic totem poles from an abandoned village on Haida Gwaii. In response, Parnell worked with a small team of filmmakers on the film Remediation, which describes his journey from Toronto to Haida Gwaii.

Parnell says he came to the movies because he “realized that if you have a story that needs to be told, you have to find the right medium to tell it … and that’s how I started to tell. work in other media “.

Calm and meditative and completely devoid of storytelling Remediation features Parnell carrying a section of one of his own totem poles on his back throughout the journey, which culminates with the artist sacrificing the sculpture over a fire on a secluded Haida beach Gwaii.

“I watched the Bill Reid film from the 50s and thought it sounded so condescending, and I just thought I wanted to do a reaction to that movie. So I realized if I wanted to to create a reaction to the film, I in turn had to make a film myself.

Ultimately, as with much of his work, Parnell viewed the process of remediation and the sacrifice of his sculpted pole as the work of art itself, rather than the existing sculpture as the main art form. .

Luke Parnell’s solo exhibition, Indigenous History in Color, will premiere on February 3 at the Bill Reid Gallery in downtown Vancouver. To attend the online opening of the exhibition on February 2, you can follow the link posted today on the gallery website