By Gail Picco December 16, 2021
Christi Belcourt, Sherry Farrell Racette, Nadia Kurd & Dylan Miner, Goose Lane Editions with Carleton University Art Gallery, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and MacKenzie Art Gallery, October 26, 2021, 136 pp., $45.00
Christi Belcourt is among the most important visual artists working in Canada today, and this recent retrospective, eponymously called Christi Belcourt, is a book deserving of her body of work to date.
Featuring a powerful artist’s statement by Belcourt, with text in English and Anishinaabemowin, and essays written by scholars Sherry Farrell Racette, Dylan Miner and Nadia Kurd, the book is the companion piece to an exhibition created by Thunder Bay Art Gallery and Carleton University Art Gallery. It tells the tale of the development of her art and codifies her work.
“For several years, Christi Belcourt lived on the shoulder of the La Cloche Mountains on the north shore of Lake Huron. It was there, in a studio with extraordinary views of rock, water and sky, that she found both healing and inspiration in the rich natural environment outside her door,” writes Sherry Farrell Racette.
“The strawberry has always been a symbol of life and happiness for the Ojibway,” says Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch, of their 2014 work New Beginnings, “For many, it’s called the “heart berry” and is a huge part of Anishinabek Burial Rites.”
The book is beautifully designed with ample representations of Belcourt’s (and Murdoch’s) work. There are frame worthy fold-out pages (not suggesting trying that at home).
Holding this book in your hands feels like you’ve received a hallowed gift. Flowers, the universe, portraits, animals in their earthly and no-so-earthly habitat, still life, and landscape expressed in a way that compels the heart to believe in something greater than itself. Christi Belcourt, seemingly, does it all. She’s a cheerful David Blackwood, sophisticated Emily Carr, psychedelic Mary Pratt, and socially conscious Tom Ford rolled into one.
Christi Belcourt traces the artist’s practice from the early 1990s to the present including her current work with Isaac Murdoch, an Ojibway man from Serpent River First Nation, and the Onaman Collective. She is a Michif (Métis) community artist, environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters, and Indigenous peoples. She is currently a lead organizer for the Onaman Collective which focuses on resurgence of language and land-based practices. She has received a bucket full of awards from the Governor General to the Premier’s Awards in the Arts.
“Being for something is more powerful than being against something,” says Belcourt. One could also say releasing the ordinary from its earthly bounds setting it free into its unlikely heavenly destination is aesthetic genius.
Her social activism sets Belcourt apart from non-Indigenous artists, The profound beauty she creates, each piece standing on its own two feet with lively splendour and magnificence that tells a story and reflects a people, is what sets her apart from all artists. Some of her work is monumental in size, measuring four and a half metres wide. Yet, she can lend her remarkable artistry to a line of footwear, such as the recently launched limited edition Manitobah Mukluk.
This limited-edition mukluk, however, doesn’t represent the first-time fashion has come calling on Belcourt. The Italian fashion house Valentino, used her painting Water Song, part of the permanent collection at National Gallery of Canada, for its 2016 spring collection. And Valentino knows how to pick its muses.
Belcourt works hard as an artist. In a recent Twitter thread, she wrote,
“When I’m painting, I can’t do anything else. When it’s a big painting, it’s all I do. I started at 9am this morning. I just quit for the day. 14.5 hours work today. I’m 10 days in on this schedule so far. It’ll take me a month in total.
“It’s hard to explain to people in my life, that I don’t want to talk on the phone, or visit, and no, I can’t just go check an email or be on a zoom. When I’m in the zone I need to be alone to think, to feel, to work. It consumes me until I’m done. All I want to do is paint and create art. But if I did I would regret not spending time with my family or learning the language. I’m pulled in many directions. Life is too short. I want to live to 200 years old.”
We want 200 years of Belcourt too.
For people not familiar with Belcourt’s work, Christi Belcourt, the book, is a gift for yourself. For Belcourt fans, it’s a validation of an artist whose body of work is brilliant and whose best may well be yet to come. Yay Christi. Yay Belcourt. And yay to Goose Lane Editions and all the people who contributed to this remarkable volume.
(Gail Picco is the editor in chief of The Charity Report.)
More reviews by Gail Picco
#BlackinSchool: How school reinforces racism September 12, 2021
David Love: Thoughts of an Environmental Fundraiser April 30, 2021