Great artists do two things – they break the mold of traditional art, they reflect their new vision back to us, a vision that provokes us.
First Nations artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun is a master at both.
His bright, bold, colours, often surrealistic images of people, time and place, are powerful, creating a narrative common in the 20th.century, raping of the land, the destruction of people, the powerful subjugating of the weaker, denying people basic human rights.
But Yuxweluptun takes it a step further – First Nations people and their land are objects of a white colonial policy designed to subjugate and crush them.
That approach and perspective is a deviation from most First Nations art, showcasing and celebrating its cultural history and practices.
His paintings and public statements are synonymous, to provoke us, to rile us, into a reaction.
Yuxweluptun grew up in a family heavily involved in politics. Both parents played major roles in various First Nations organizations advocating for more rights, fighting systemic racism evident in Canadian society and throughout its institutions.
His uncanny ability to juxtapose the real world with the bizarre are reminiscent of the works by Salvatore Dali, the Spanish master of surrealism.
He lives in Vancouver and has had museum shows all over Canada and shown in galleries in Asia, Europe, Canada and the U.S.
I interviewed him a few years ago for my podcast, Cool Conversations, at his Vancouver studio, a memorable and treasured moment in time.
He spoke at great length about the tyranny and constant efforts by governments to deny First Nations people what is rightfully theirs.
I had seen his art prior to that. It was at a gallery opening.
His powerful paintings resonated with me. I almost bought one of them.
Instead I bought another painting from the same gallery.
What a big mistake that was.
But not all his paintings are political in nature, some are funny, irreverent, poking fun at his people and elders.
At one point he did what a lot of artists do – deviating from the usual and going in a new direction.
It was his ovoid period.
Ovoids are used often to illustrate patterns and figures, a feature of some First Nations art. But, as usual, he approached those paintings using his own style and approach.
It did not last long.
He returned to painting his traditional works, masterpieces of provoking white society.