Nova Scotia Journal

Saturday, December 2, 2023

A new retrospective examines First Nations artist Robert Houle’s 50-year career

First Nations artist Robert Houle's 50-year career

Key Takeaways:

  • The renowned Saulteaux and Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle’s half-century career focuses on a new major retrospective titled “Red is Beautiful” at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
  • The retrospective opened in Toronto on Friday.

Over 100 works, including monumental paintings, intimate drawings, and large-scale installations, as well as personal and archival photographs, are included in the exhibition, which is named after one of Houle’s earliest works.

The performance has been in the works for two years, but it has long been a dream of Houle’s. The 74-year-old artist wanted to do a retrospective before turning 75 next year. His work has been featured in two other major exhibitions, but this is his most significant to date.

Robert Houle's Art Gallery
Robert Houle’s Art Gallery

“It’s a little frightening. “It makes me understand how old I am,” Houle chuckled during a phone call. “You still get goosebumps or anxiety no matter how many professionals assist you in hanging your paintings, installations, and objects.” So it’s still a little nerve-racking.”

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Since bursting into the contemporary art scene in 1970, Houle has been regarded as one of the most influential First Nations artists. According to the website of the Art Gallery of Ontario, his work combines abstraction, modernism, and conceptualism with First Nations aesthetics and histories. In addition, his work delves into themes such as Indigenous sovereignty, spiritual traditions, major resistance movements, and the residential school era.

Houle grew up in southern Manitoba’s Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation. As a boy, he was forced to visit a community residential school, and as a teen, he was sent to another residential school in Winnipeg. “It was the first time I had seen contemporary art by our people. “I just felt like he presented a completely different idea of who we were,” Nanibush recalls.

“It showed me a completely different way to be an arts activist and think about social justice from a completely different perspective.”

Nanibush had to contact over 30 lenders to get them to agree to loan out Houle’s work for the exhibit. “They want Robert to get the recognition he deserves,” she says, adding that thankfully, none of them said no. The show will be on start until April 17, 2022, after which it will travel to Calgary and Winnipeg.

Source: CP24 News

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