Immediately following the hanging of Louis Riel in 1885, Métis people became noticeably absent within Canadian historical records and Canadian consciousness. This void existed from 1885 until the early 1970’s and subsequently there appears to be a disconnect in the public’s perception between the Métis of 1885 and the Métis of today. Using Métis historical art as the foundation of my art has been to bring a sense of continuity between the past and present: to celebrate my culture for having survived through those tough years of extreme poverty, abuse and shame.
In 1993, what began as a simple experiment to paint flowers inspired by the traditional beadwork patterns of Métis and First Nation women I’d been exposed to since childhood, has now evolved into the course my work has continued to follow since. This journey has led me on an exploration into traditional Métis art, Métis history, environmental issues, and contemporary issues that face the Métis in modern times.
To put my work into context it is important to note that by the early 1800’s, Métis women were creating large quantities of distinctive floral beaded items for sale and trade. Beadwork became an expression of Métis cultural identity and served to heighten Métis nationalism and cultural pride. Métis beadwork patterns extracted from nature emphasized symmetry, balance, and harmony.
The focus of my work for the last 10 or 12 years has been to attempt to transfer ‘beadwork' to canvas, and in so doing, add commentary and expression within the work beyond the purely aesthetic. The plants within my paintings have become metaphors to parallel humanity. The roots are exposed to signify that all life needs nurturing from the earth to survive, and represent the idea that there is more to life than what is seen on the surface. Additionally it represents the great influence our heritage has on us as individuals. There are lines that connect the plants to symbolize our own interconnectedness with each other and all living things.
In my early work I began by placing a few ‘dots’ within my paintings to suggest beadwork. The process has now developed to where entire floral patterns are created in ‘dots’ by dipping the end of a paintbrush or knitting needle into the paint and pressing it onto canvas. The effect is thousands of raised dots per canvas that simulate beadwork. In the last few years, I have been encouraging people to touch my paintings by running their fingers along the surfaces. My aim being to create a relaxed and intimate environment in which the audience can examine their own perceptions or perhaps misperceptions of Métis people and perhaps find commonalities that transcend cultural barriers.
Over the years my work has began to transform as the dots have come to represent more than beads. Their circular shapes indicative of the cycle of life have become a means to express the unknown – from molecules to universes – in essence, the expanse and mystery of life. This has led to some first rudimentary attempts experimenting with more abstract concepts. Over time I have also become more passionate about the environment and environmental issues. This has also begun to make its way into my art in prominent ways.