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Spring 2008 Cover
Spring 2008 Cover
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"Jacob’s Ladder No. 2"
"Jacob’s Ladder No. 2," Rick Rivet, acrylic on canvas, 2007, 43 X 43 Photo: Virginia Christopher Fine Art
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"Cat’s Cradle No. 5"
"Cat’s Cradle No. 5," Rick Rivet, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2005, 43.5 X 43.5 Photo: Mendel Art Gallery
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"Earth Figure No. 3"
"Earth Figure No. 3," Rick Rivet, acrylic on canvas, 2007, 54.3 X 54.3 Photo: Virginia Christopher Fine Art
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Artist Rick Rivet
Artist Rick Rivet.
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"Journey No. 56"
"Journey No. 56," Rick Rivet, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2003, 43 X 43 Photo: Mendel Art Gallery
HOMAGE - RICK RIVET
With recurring imagery, this B.C. painter's vision moves into the world of myth and metaphysics.
BY: Portia Priegert
Looking at Rick Rivet’s paintings is like embarking on a journey through a dream world — images emerge and recede, symbols float into awareness and wash in on waves of sumptuous colour. His work is highly expressive, with mark-making techniques that range from bold slashes to slowly graduated fields of thick colour. Through it all are Rivet’s ruminations on nature, memory, metaphysics and indigenous mythologies.
“A lot of the mark-making is almost like carving into the painting to get at an unconscious idea,” says Rivet, a Métis artist originally from the Northwest Territories. “I think it’s a fairly complex process to develop an image. It develops — it doesn’t just happen. There’s chaos and control, destruction and reconstruction. There are layers of paint, with drips over them, and washes over other areas. It’s very process-oriented.”
In an exhibition recently circulated by Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery, Rivet’s work hovers between abstraction and representation, engaging the languages of both. He blends the traditions of modernist art with those of shamanistic cultures. His synthesis, with its rich visual qualities and underlying thoughtfulness, is deeply evocative at an emotional and intuitive level.
Rivet’s imagery includes basic geometric forms such as squares and triangles and loosely rendered animals, human forms and northern motifs — kayaks, sleds and whaling boats. His concerns often focus on particular imagery repeated in multiple paintings — masks, mazes, string games, medicine wheels and burial mounds — common elements in a variety of shamanistic cultures. His northern roots also inform his process. “I think a lot of my work stems from growing up in the Arctic and growing up on the land, being there right in the landscape all the time, when you’re out playing or just living in a fishing camp or on a trap line.”
Rivet traces his ancestry to Europe through his father and to the Dene and Saulteaux people through his mother. He was born in 1949 in Aklavik, above the Arctic Circle in the Mackenzie River Delta. Aboriginal traditions were more intact at that time and Aklavik, a regional trading centre, was home to various aboriginal peoples as well as Europeans. “My family lived on the land and in town depending on the season,” he says. “At age seven, I began attending school in Aklavik with other students from the region, a cross-cultural experience to say the least.”
His family eventually moved to Inuvik, which became the economic centre of the Mackenzie Delta in the 1950s, and he continued his schooling there. He saw his first Western art at school — religious pictures in the classroom — and also recalls how aboriginal students were punished for using their own languages. He dismisses his early schooling as “a total brainwash attempt that I was smart enough to avoid.”
Still, with the assistance of government grants, Rivet headed south in 1969 for his post-secondary education. He has earned four degrees in art and education — first, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1972, and then a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980 from the University of Victoria, where he studied painting, printmaking and art history. He went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in 1985 and a Bachelor of Education in 1986, both from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
His formal education was complemented by travels across Canada and jobs that included surveying, roofing, mining and prospecting. He also researched traditions of the Aleut, Navajo, Cree and Hopi as well as Siberian indigenous peoples such as the Chukchi, Goldi, Buryat and Evenk, intrigued by their shared archetypes. His widespread interests also led him to Jungian psychology, Buddhist philosophy, German Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism and individual artists such as Edvard Munch, Antoni Tàpies and Paterson Ewen.
George Moppett, who curated the Mendel exhibition, observes that Rivet’s art is not overtly political and is driven more by a concern with common aspects of shared humanity. “For Rivet, the artist is the inheritor of the shamanistic tradition. Through the creative act, both shaman and artist journey beyond the known to access uncharted territories,” he writes in the exhibition catalogue. “Rivet’s metaphysical paintings are a testament to that responsibility; they also offer a critique of art that is unbalanced and weighted towards the rational. Rivet feels distrust for the work of some conceptual artists, whose art, he feels, has no affinity or identification with either the natural or the dream world.”
Nevertheless, Rivet expresses frustration with the Canadian art establishment, which he criticizes for being rooted in Euro-centric concerns and for marginalizing artists from indigenous backgrounds, particularly Métis artists. “We have always had a problem in this country being stuck between the Indians and the white people,” he says. “We’re a combination of both and we get the flak from both ends all the time, throughout history.”
Rivet came to national attention in 1992 when paintings that made reference to the legacies of colonialism were included in a major national exhibition, Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. He has also completed a series of paintings about the Beothuk people of pre-colonial Newfoundland, whose culture disappeared after European contact.
“Rivet’s art is both homage and lament,” says Moppett. “It acknowledges that with the loss of these ancient cultures there is a corresponding loss of unique understandings of life … from Rivet’s perspective, the success of a culture is not to be adjudicated solely by technical sophistication and the acquisition of wealth through commerce, but also by the value it places on a commonly understood mythology.”
Rivet emphasizes that his concerns are spiritual but have nothing to do with organized religion, which he sees as a source of problems between people as well as a cause of the estrangement between humans and the natural world. “The approach is introspective, involving the existential nature of being — the spiritual, the psychic and the physical aspects of human experience,” he says in his artist’s statement. “In my art, I seek poetic expression — a visual language which uses the visible universe as a metaphor for the invisible, a communication between the world and the spirit, a mystical relationship between physical/metaphysical realities.”
Rivet, who works full time as a painter, has received more than 20 awards, scholarships and bursaries, including a fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis and the Andy Warhol Foundation Fellowship Residency for the Heard Museum in Phoenix. He has lived in Terrace, B.C., since 1990. His wife, Donna, teaches elementary school there. Rivet says he doesn’t mix much with other artists and prefers to spend time reading, listening to music and hitting the open road on his motorcycle. The couple has no children, but their two cats have been featured in the occasional painting. Rivet wants to move south after his wife retires from teaching in several years. “Living up North is just too small for me now,” he says. “It’s too isolated.”
Rivet, who paints several hours a day in a basement studio in his home, says he has become interested in portraying light in order to evoke ideas about the movement of energy through the body and the ways in which biorhythms are affected by both seasonal changes and modern lifestyles.
“We transmit light ourselves as live beings,” he says. “It’s kind of like the idea of auras in people. It’s linked in a way to the Chinese, with acupuncture, with meridians and lines of energy going through the body.” This new interest fits easily with his previous depictions of ethereal figures and landscapes, while expanding his focus on metaphysical concerns. “I’d like to develop a visual interpretation of reality as I think it is, rather than how it seems to be on the surface.”
Portia Priegert is an artist and freelance writer based in Kelowna, BC. She is the former director of the Alternator Gallery for Contemporary Art.
Rick Rivet’s work is represented by Virginia Christopher Fine Art in Calgary, Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria, Gallery Gevik in Toronto, and the Ruschman Gallery in Indianapolis.