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David Garneau, How the West Was…, 1997-2003, Oil on canvas Collection of Glenbow, Calgary AB Image: Andy Nichols, LCR Photoservices

Métissage at the Nickle Galleries 

By Kimberly Taylor, March 6 2023

Métissage, a new installation at the Nickle Galleries in the Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) featuring 53 pieces by Métis artist David Garneau, is a fantastic opportunity to engage with both beautiful art and Indigenous identity for students. The installation was put together by guest curator Mary Beth Laviollette with pieces on loan from other galleries and from the artist. The installation is intended to take the viewer on a journey with the artist through the experience of Métissage — being in different cultures, between cultures and finding his identity and place.

Garneau was born and raised in Edmonton. He earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Calgary, and after his masters in American literature taught at the University of Calgary and at the University of Alberta. As a published scholar he is often asked to speak, and is also a senior artist. The Nickle Galleries has been preparing this installation since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Michele Hardy, the curator of the gallery, and the staff hope that people will discover an artist who has both great artistic skill and deep integrity.

While most of the pieces are oil paintings, there are also three videos featuring Garneau’s performance art: a beaded vest Garneau made to wear during keynote lectures, the Canadian mint’s Louis Riel coin designed by Garneau, and a wood burning panel. The paintings use various techniques and styles including comic panels, quilts, Métis beading, impressionism, realism, bricolage and pointillism.

There are many split works, with multiple paintings working together to create an overall image. Sometimes this is accomplished by a set of large realistic paintings. Other times it’s several smaller panels working together like a quilt to depict different viewpoints coming together. 

These paintings ask the viewer to reconsider history. As such there are some pieces that may evoke strong emotions. Hardy said some of the works “are political, and quite charged” but also “very tender.” Viewers should be prepared to engage with truth and reconciliation themes in a visceral, personal way. Hardy reminds us that the value of art lies in sharing painful history in not just a public way, but with beauty that challenges viewers to sit with the art and reflect on history. She encourages anyone who comes to see the installation to reflect. Reflect on the history and reflect on the emotions brought up by the art.

Garneau’s work is influenced by other Indigenous artists, as the installation features art by Christi Belcourt, Alex Janvier, John Cardinal Schubert and Bob Boyer. These pieces are to the left when you enter. Hardy said these artists taught Garneau “you didn’t have to go to New York or Toronto to be an artist” and that their work “inspired” his work. As they inspire the journey through Garneau’s work, Hardy recommends starting there, and then coming back to the beginning of Garneau’s work.

Of course, viewers are free to explore the pieces in whatever order they wish, and to spend as long as they would like. The installation will be at the Nickle Galleries until April 22. If you need a quiet, meditative, reflective break from studying, come and sit with Garneau’s work. Sitting with his art, and the emotions it will stir up is a powerful experience I would recommend to any student. If you would like a tour of the installation, Mary Beth Laviolette will be leading curator’s tours on Feb. 16, March 10 and March 25. 

The TFDL has also recently installed several pieces by Indigenous artists throughout the library and Kaia MacLeod will be leading a tour on those pieces on April 3. More information is available on the Nickle Galleries website.

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