Ohotaq Mikkigak

June 1 – 28, 2024

COMPOSITION (SUNRISE), 2012, Coloured pencil, 48 3/8 x 49 in.

Ohotaq Mikkigak (1936-2014) began his artistic journey during the early stages of the co-op print program in Kinngait (Cape Dorset). While his debut print, ‘Eskimo Fox Trapper’ was released in 1961, Mikkigak’s consistent engagement with drawing began upon his retirement as a caretaker at the Peter Pitseolak School in Kinngait in 1999. Mikkigak embraced evolution and experimentation, particularly evident in his exploration of colour and scale. Nearing the end of his life, he began to delve into a more abstract approach, notably showcased in his large-scale drawings, a departure from his earlier, detailed, smaller-scale works. Within this expanded canvas, Mikkigak’s art transformed into a contemporary style, portraying landscapes, seascapes, and buildings in his community.

His earlier print and drawing works, comprised of figures, animals, and fish, each infused with character and whimsy, were inspired by his life in Kinngait. Demonstrating exceptional skill in capturing the fluidity of motion, Mikkigak was drawn to the playful antics of animals. Watching birds soar above the landscape, he realized their point of view was one he would never experience, leading him to rely on his imagination to craft his visions of the landscape on paper.

One of Mikkigak’s earliest drawings portrays a scene of domestic violence, showing a husband striking his wife. This graphite-on-paper artwork, along with its darker subject matter, aligns with the artwork being produced in Kinngait at this time. It wasn’t until the early 2000s, over 40 years later, that Mikkigak would resume his artistic career in a new direction.

Beginning with his monochromatic ink drawings, Mikkigak consistently explored composition and symmetry. These works featured birds and figures adorned with repeating faces, wide eyes, and small frowns, all characterized by their circular faces. In ANIMAL BONE SPIRITS this signature face appears once more, however the composition and use of colour show an evolution in Mikkigak’s style. His figures begin to exhibit altered direction and movement, as illustrated in FOUR BIRDS WALKING TOGETHER and COMPOSITION (FOUR MEN). Leading into the mid-2000s, Mikkigak began to experiment with different forms and aerial perspectives, often through scenes of animals on the land. His compositions became increasingly intricate, providing an intimate glimpse into the lives and playful gestures of animals in the North.

After a small series of studies depicting single birds in black ink, Mikkigak would begin to narrow his focus on the landscape. The natural wonders of the land left a profound impact on him, particularly the vivid hues of the rainbow. A rarity in the North, the rainbow is a spectacle unique to the summer season. In Inuktitut, the word for ‘rainbow’ is ‘suka’, and among the Inuit, its appearance brings joy as it symbolizes the traditional legend of the ends of the rainbow holding the world together as one.1 This colourful display of the skies deeply influenced Mikkigak’s merging of colours, creating a sublime horizon of sunrises and sunsets—a view that neither Mikkigak, nor his audience, would ever truly experience. Although his first print was created in 1961, it was during the last 14 years of his life, fueled by a newfound joy in drawing, that he produced his most prolific and influential work.

1. Interview with Ohotaq Mikkigak by Patricia Feheley, July 2012, Kinngait, NU.

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