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Alex Janvier, "Manitoba," 2008, acrylic on linen, 72” X 48”.
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"Banff Art Centre Feb 2008"
Alex Janvier, "Banff Art Centre Feb 2008," 2008, acrylic on canvas, 14 X 11”.
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"White Apple in Red Circle"
Alex Janvier, "White Apple in Red Circle," 2008, mixed media on paper, 18” X 18”.
Canada House Gallery, Banff
September 6 to 18, 2008
By Rob Alexander
Alex Janvier’s work is remarkable and unmistakable—though the 73-year-old artist of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent has his influences, namely Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, his style is very much his own. Janvier combines a palette of rich, natural colours—found along a river bank, in a deep forest or a field of wildflowers—with abstraction, negative space and long, sinuous lines like winding streams and cirrus clouds.
Into that mix Janvier, who is rooted in the Woodlands School, adds elements taken directly from aboriginal culture, including his mother’s beadwork and birch bark basketry. The effect is lyrical, organic and free. Janvier has commented that his art focuses on challenges and celebrations that he has encountered in his lifetime, resulting in a lyrical, almost elusive, dream-like quality.
It’s easy to become lost in his paintings as shapes, both real and imagined, begin to appear, giving the work an element of discovery, giving a sense that each layer is just one in a multi-faceted body of work.
Janvier’s recent exhibition at Canada House Gallery in Banff marks a return to his earlier work. In 1990, he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, and the disease forced him to adapt to a new technique, dripping paint onto canvas. But during a six-week residency at The Banff Centre in January and February of this year, Janvier regained use of his right hand and re-discovered his distinctive style, leading him to create the 42 paintings for Canada House.
His paintings—acrylic, watercolour and India ink on canvas, linen and hand-made paper—also comment socially and politically on aboriginal culture. The four acrylic-on-linen paintings in the Dene Series, for example, honour the Dene people with themes of cultural renewal. The painting Alberta traces the province’s vibrant powwow culture, while Manitoba is about that province’s role as a gateway between eastern and western Canada.
As an artist Janvier began early to forge his own identity as an artist, earning him the Order of Canada, a Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts, and an honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Alberta. On Sept. 6, Janvier won the inaugural Marion Nicholl Visual Arts Award, along with its $50,000 prize.