In the heart of downtown Montreal, just where you would least expect it, you will find a colourful reminder that you can take an artist out of Eeyou Istchee, but you can’t take Eeyou Istchee out of the artist.
If you are in town this month, now is your chance to see what Glenna
Matoush has been up to recently.
Matoush’s colourful multimedia paintings are on exhibit throughout November at the Canadian Guild of Crafts at 1460 Sherbrooke St. West.
Although Matoush has been living and working in Montreal for the past 11 years, many of the works in the show were directly inspired by the people, events and culture of Eeyou Istchee. “Meant for… Ella” is a tribute to her late friend, Ella Saganash. The words “She walked Out” in Cree syllabics run along the frame of one large painting of three mitchuaps that commemorates her grand daughter’s walking out ceremony in Waswanipi.
Other themes in Matoush’s work address cultural and political concerns of First Nations people everywhere—cultural appropriation, for example. The “Transporting Shaman” series of small and large-scale works was started three years ago, after controversy erupted around the discovery near Collingwood, Ontario of ancient pictographs. Archaeologists argued that Vikings created these rock paintings, but the local Indians say that they are Native depictions of shaman transporting souls to the heavens. Matoush’s response was to reclaim these ancient images in her own work. She has produced richly textured, colourful paintings that feature symbols found in the rock paintings: Vessels displaying the symbols found in the pictographs are built up with layers of birch bark and surrounded by swirls of luminously colourful beads.
Three pieces in the “Transporting Shaman” series stand out in stark contrast to the warm colours and textures of the majority of the works. These more abstract paintings in black, white and flecks and streams of blue come from what Matoush refers to as her “dark period.” Sad news from her old home of Mistissini led her to create these layered, glossy, dark images. At her opening, Matoush explained that the blue forms in these pieces are meant to convey the sense of souls being carried away by water. These thin slivers and wider rivers of sky blue prevent these paintings from being overwhelmingly sombre. Even when dealing with serious or sad events, Matoush injects her paintings with a positive sensitivity that gives them a comforting aura.
Now a prolific painter, Matoush actually started out as a print maker. Having studied printmaking at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Guilde Graphique, she used this to set up a makeshift studio in her kitchen in Mistissini, with her etching plate set on top of an open cutlery drawer and her acid bath on the counter. In 1987 Matoush built with her own hands a studio as an addition to her log cabin. Then, in the summer of 1990, she attended a ten-day painting workshop led by Pierre Leon Tetrault. “We were working outside. I was making a painting every day. We used so much canvas they had to order more.” Matoush fondly remembers that she brought 10-year-old nephew Kevin Mianscum with her. He turned out to be the most avant-garde of all the participants, jumping into abstract painting right from the get go. “The paint was flying all over!” At one point she turned around to find him covered head to toe in black paint. “I told him to go jump in the lake to get cleaned up.” In 1992, she left Mistissini to embark on her career as a painter in Montreal.
For those who can’t jump on a plane and head down to Montreal, worry not.
Within the next year or so you will be able to see a fine example of Matoush’s work in Mistissini at the Hotel Museum. She has been commissioned to produce an 8 by 30-foot mural.
“The Wall of Personalities” will depict local community members of the past and present.
You can also check out Matoush’s work on the web at www.creeculture.ca.
Glenna Matoush, Works on Paper and Canvas at the Canadian Guild of Crafts from October 31 to November 29. 1460 Sherbrooke St. West, Suite B, Montreal. Ph: (514) 849-6091