Dubbed “the first Canadian native modernist,” Alex Janvier, RCA, is one of this country’s most acclaimed artists. As a member of the Indian Group of Seven,* Janvier is an eminent pioneer of contemporary aboriginal art. Janvier developed his unique signature style of modern abstraction by blending indigenous and contemporary influences, from his mother’s beadwork and baskets, to Kandinsky and Klee. Janvier’s paintings chronicle the historic challenges and celebrations of First Nations emerging from a long struggle with oppression, as well as his personal heritage as a Dene in northern Alberta.
Janvier’s large scale, eloquent paintings are a distinctive blend of abstract and representational imagery shot through with bright, symbolic colours. He sees his work as a narrative: creation, resistance, and protracted, often painful progress. The Toronto Star describes Janvier’s paintings as “grand, fluid arcs that explode into snaking tendrils or braid and tangle….nonetheless controlled, precise and readable…the story he crafts here is both of those things: struggle and resilience, originality and clarity of purpose.” In 2016-17, the National Gallery of Canada held a major retrospective of Janvier’s work: 150 paintings from those first made as 15 year old residential school student to his current masterworks at age 81.
Morning Star, installed in 1993 in the high dome of the Grand Hall in the Canadian Museum of History, is perhaps Janvier’s best known masterpiece. Other recent career highlights include the new Janvier Gallery in Cold Lake, Alberta, which opened in 2012, and Tsa Tsa Ke K’e (Iron Foot Place), a large mosaic installed at Edmonton’s Rogers Place in 2016.
Janvier graduated with Honours from the Alberta Institute of Technology and Art (now ACAD) in 1960, and taught at the University of Alberta. He helped form a group of artists for an Expo 67 pavilion, including Norval Morrisseau and Bill Reid. In 1971, Janvier co-founded *Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. with Daphne Odjig, Norval Morrisseau and others to reject the idea that indigenous art was merely craft and artifact, and to demand to be seen as serious contemporary artists on their own terms.
Janvier is a Member of the Order of Canada (2007), Alberta Order of Excellence (2010), and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1992). He received the Marion Nicoll Art Award (2008), Governor General’s Award (2008), Centennial Medal (2005), National Aboriginal Achievement Award (2002), and holds two honorary doctorate degrees from the Universities of Calgary (2008) and Alberta (2008). Janvier’s work appears in major collections including: Alberta Foundation for the Arts; Art Gallery of Alberta; Canada Council Art Bank; Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade; Glenbow Museum; Esso Oil; Gulf Oil; McMichael Canadian Art Collection; Shell Canada; Winnipeg Art Gallery.
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