Courtesy Marion Scott Gallery
Itee Pootoogook, "Calm Water, This Guy is Ready for Hunting," 2013
Itee Pootoogook, "Calm Water, This Guy is Ready for Hunting," 2013, coloured pencil and graphite on paper, 22.5” x 30”
The image is classic Itee Pootoogook: A bleak northern landscape meticulously sketched in graphite behind a curiously cropped coloured pencil image of a man holding a rope to what appears to be a boat. Calm Water, This Guy is Ready for Hunting is titled in what Robert Kardosh, director of the Marion Scott Gallery in Vancouver, calls Pootoogook’s usual matter-of-fact style, complete with a touch of deadpan humour. The late-blooming artist made the drawing the year before his death from cancer at 63 in an Iqaluit hospital.
Showing in May as part of Pootoogook’s fourth exhibition at Marion Scott, the drawing also demonstrates his dedication to portraying the contemporary world, what he saw around him in day-to-day life, rather than some romanticized idea of the North. He was one of his generation’s groundbreakers, a man who helped transform the vision of earlier artists who worked in more traditional styles at the famous Cape Dorset printmaking centre in Nunavut.
A quiet man, Pootoogook would line up his pencils on his table and draw with tremendous focus for most of the day. He typically worked from photographs and was interested in architectural elements, particularly windows. Much of his work is essentially about looking and how we see.
Pootoogook came from an important family of artists. His cousin, Annie, won the prestigious $50,000 Sobey Art Award in 2006. He worked as a carpenter and began drawing in earnest in the 1990s. “He was so great and his work kept getting better and better with each show,” says Kardosh. “It was very exciting to see new work by him.”
Pootoogook has been compared to prominent artists from the South, including Nova Scotia’s Alex Colville. “There’s a real sense of stillness, but without the foreboding quality of Colville,” says Kardosh. Vancouver art critic Robin Laurence has also noted affinities with Newfoundland’s Christopher Pratt and Saskatchewan’s David Thauberger.