If you’ve never encountered Corey Bulpitt’s fusion practice, imagine classical Haida forms and designs mated with the street art of hip-hop culture.
Envision a Haida eagle carved in red cedar and mounted on top of a section of tagged and discarded telephone pole; a painting on canvas, stencilled with Haida salmon-head motifs and overlaid with abstract swirls of graffiti; another painting in which an oil spill poisons coastal creatures.
Along with stellar examples of his more traditional Haida paintings and carvings, all these works are on view in Bulpitt’s show AKOS, at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art to October 19.
Catching a glimpse of the artist himself may be a little more challenging. On a grey day in late August, Bulpitt was racing around the city, gathering art for the group show he was curating as part of the second annual Native Hip Hop Festival (which took place over the Labour Day weekend). He was also hosting the festival’s honoured senior guest, the Native American activist and hip-hop photographer Ernie Paniccioli—not to mention juggling interview requests, child-minding duties, and Vancouver traffic.
When the Straight caught up with Bulpitt—whose graffiti name is AKOS and Haida name is T’aak’eit G’aaya, meaning “Gifted Carver”—he was making a quick stop at the East Van hub known as Shop Wrong. This converted storefront, at the corner of Hastings Street and Vernon Drive, serves as an art gallery, silk-screening workshop, custom-goods show room, neighbourhood drop-in centre, moving-company office, and home base for the Shop Wrong Artists’ Collective. The place also functions as a studio, where much of the work in Bulpitt’s current exhibition was produced.
Sitting down there to talk, Bulpitt described some of the parallels between Haida and hip-hop cultures. Along with similarities of line, he said, “There’s the community strength, the people who get together to sing and dance—break dancing and traditional Haida dancing, drumming, and deejaying.” He also mentioned the ambitious scale of the two-dimensional art, whether spray-painted across a concrete wall or applied with brushes over the front of a wooden longhouse. (One of Bulpitt’s biggest and best-known Haida/hip-hop murals is located under the southern end of the Granville Street Bridge, near Granville Island.)
Born in Prince Rupert to Haida parents, adopted into a British-Canadian family, and raised in Langley, Bulpitt has always made art of one form or another. In his teens, he attended Langley Fine Arts high school—and also began tagging. “I was thirsting for something that I was missing, which ended up being hip-hop culture,” he said.
When he was 20, that thirst took him in another direction, to his ancestral home. He travelled to Haida Gwaii, met his birth parents, visited ancient village sites, then apprenticed for four years with his cousin, master carver Christian White. Bulpitt’s beautiful masks, dance screens, wall panels, and monumental poles reveal how thoroughly he absorbed classical Haida forms and designs—and the oral histories and belief systems they represent. Still, he said, “My early tagging and graffiti days were an important steppingstone in the development of my career as an artist.”
As his Bill Reid show makes clear, hip-hop culture continues to shape his practice. Other museums and galleries across Canada are eager to commission his graffiti-influenced, Haida-style wall paintings.
And while red cedar is his favourite medium, he said, “spray-painting is a close second.”