Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, "Copper from the Hood," 2011
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, "Copper from the Hood," 2011, car hood, copper leaf and paint, 55" x 32"
Ask Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas how he is and you’ll get an honest answer. “It’s an interesting time,” he says from Vancouver, where he’s juggling several big projects, including his solo show, The Seriousness of Play, on this summer at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. “It’s like trying to run through knee-deep water sometimes.” Yahgulanaas is also negotiating a major commission for an American institution, a project he expects will absorb him for 18 months, so he’s busy trying to stock up bread-and-butter work for commercial sales in the meantime.
His entrepreneurial energy is remarkable. He has many streams of work – he’s known for copper shields painted on the hoods of automobiles, a series he showed at the UBC Museum of Anthropology in 2007. The shields are a traditional symbol of indigenous wealth, but in his hands they morph into a more loaded statement about contemporary life. Four years ago, he started another auto-part series, Flappes, which features gas-cap doors covered in copper leaf and painted with imagery. He also sells paintings, collages and drawings on ledger paper, and recently began making ceramic tiles.
Yahgulangaas, who grew up on Haida Gwaii, coined the term Haida Manga to describe his imagery. It blends formline and other elements of Haida art with aspects of manga, a visual language used in Japanese comics. But he says his work has grown over the years to represent a much broader concept than mere hybridity. “It’s not about this type of ethnicity, it’s about ethnicities in general,” he says. “And it’s even not about ethnicities, but it’s about relationships between self and other.”
His work is in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. He has also published books, including Flight of the Hummingbird and RED, a Haida Manga.