Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Steve and Rod Smith - Collaboration & Contrast

I studied Art History as an undergraduate and was initially drawn to the diverse media and subject matter that make-up Modern Art from the Western world. From blown glass to formaldehyde fetuses - and from psychoanalysis to automatism - art from the Twentieth Century was so complex and varied that it met many of my intellectual needs, as a right-brained nerd in his early twenties. As I began to consider applying for a Masters degree in this field, however, I found it more and more difficult to find a particular artist or subject to focus on. There was simply too much diversity in twentieth-century art, and I couldn’t think of something that I really wanted to dedicate my time and money to. During my final year, I began working at Vancouver’s Lattimer Gallery. I was not particularly fond of British Columbian First Nations art prior to securing this position at the gallery, but it did not take long for my understanding of this art to develop, and then for my appreciation to pullulate. One of the things that I found so satisfying about this art form was that it had historically-defined and aesthetic constraints, unlike modern art from Europe and North America. There are subjects and shapes and colours that define the creative output of artists from the various cultures along the Northwest Coast, and it takes truly creative individuals to produce novel and innovative works within these artistic and cultural traditions. My time at Lattimer Gallery sparked a passion for Native art from the West Coast, and this is what I ended up getting my Masters degree in.

Two artists that best demonstrate this rare ability to propel Northwest Coast Native art, given these aesthetic and thematic boundaries, are brothers Steve Smith Dla’kwagila and Rod Smith Galuyagmi. Their father, Harris Smith, was an established Kwakwaka’wakw artist who was very successful in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island during the 1980s and 1990s. He developed a distinctive style of painting based on the abstraction of Northwest Coast First Nations design elements. The ovoid, split-u, and s-form would cover surfaces from rustic burl vessels to iconic totem poles in a fluid and dynamic fashion. Harris still produced conventional masks and prints and paintings, but he created many pieces that were blatantly non-figurative and notably innovative. Steve and Rod took-up this style of painting and design sense, but went slightly different ways with it. Most of Steve’s pieces cling to the figurative, while Rod has really embraced and perfected painting in the abstract. Having said this, both brothers have a lot in common: they possess the awe-inspiring ability to apply their idiosyncratic painting style to most any shape and surface, and they have consistently created new and completely original works for over twenty years.

Lattimer Gallery is holding an exhibition of Steve and Rod’s work between June 22nd – July 20th. The show is titled Collaboration & Contrast, and in addition to highlighting the differences between these two unpredictable artists the exhibition will also contain pieces that the brothers have made cooperatively. Steve and Rod are in their prime right now, both born in the 1960s, so I strongly encourage anyone interested in Northwest Coast Native art to go and check out this show. Also, if you can at all afford it, I would advise that you purchase a piece by one of these artists as well!

Keywords: "Steve Smith Native Art", "Alex Dawkins", "Native Art Vancouver"

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