North Star: The Art of Lyle Wilson
At the West Vancouver Museum until May 30
Whether he is drawing on paper, painting on panel, or cutting images out of anodized aluminum, Lyle Wilson lays claim to a very particular graphic style. The acclaimed Haisla artist fuses traditions of the northern and central coast, and then introduces his own complex contemporary sensibility. North Star, a mid-career survey, focuses on Wilson’s two-dimensional art, which is executed with a perfectionist’s attention to detail.
The exhibition also includes miniature poles and canoes, a painted Larrivée guitar, gold and silver jewellery, unpainted functional objects such as ladles and spoons, and four new works in water-cut and hand-worked anodized aluminum. These flat, perforated aluminum pieces, based on pencil drawings, occupy a nameless place between relief sculpture and graphic art.
Born and raised in Kitamaat Village, near the town site of Kitimat, Wilson moved to Vancouver in the mid-1970s and majored in printmaking at Emily Carr College of Art and Design. He is closely associated with the UBC Museum of Anthropology, where he has been artist in residence for more than 20 years. This position has enabled him to study and replicate historic Haisla art, building upon his early observations of the work of his uncle, carver Sam Robinson. It is upon this foundation that he has built his own expression. His art is distinguished by sinuous lines, fine crosshatching, and a multitude of intricate details and images. Wilson amplifies the more baroque elements of Northwest Coast design, including the depiction of forms within forms within forms.
Among the most striking works here are his aluminum representations of legendary creatures and crest figures. The aluminum dictates a more simplified and streamlined approach than in Wilson’s intricate paintings, and the contrast is powerful. North Star, a large disk with four directional arrows and a profile face at its centre, also bears an environmental message. It refers both to Raven’s primordial role in bringing sun, moon, and stars to the world, and to our Northern Hemisphere’s long, pre-radar history of navigating by the North Star.
Writing in the exhibition brochure, curator Darrin Morrison tells us that this work “acts as both a cultural reference and a reminder of the intimate connection to the natural world we once valued”. Wilson’s message is as contemporary as his medium.