Throughout her career, Janet Kigusiuq created drawings, prints, sculptures and textiles. Much of her work portrays life as it was once lived on the land as well as Inuit mythology but she also produced striking abstract and semi-abstract drawings and collages that are nothing short of glorious.
Many of Kigusiuq’s early drawings are filled to brimming with figures and teaming with life. They offer multiple perspectives, physical movement, and the incorporation of Inuktitut, the Inuit script. Animals are so charmingly drawn that they are clearly characters in the narrative. As with other Inuit artists, the rigid rules of perspective did not particularly interest Kigusiuq, giving these works a unique charm. Kigusiuq’s early prints and drawings give no clue to the bold colour experiments that were to follow later in her career. These figurative pieces are perhaps best noted for their absence of colour since people and animals consist of black lines on a white background. Colour is only used as an accent highlighting the edges of clothing.
Eventually, figurative works became experiments in colour – first with clothing and later with background. Later drawings show Kigusiuq’s interest in abstraction since the backgrounds, in essence, are abstractions of the landscape. It could be argued that the figures are an excuse for the backgrounds. Such drawings led to those that are totally abstract and, eventually, to the collages.
Many of Kigusiuq’s later drawings reference the vast, treeless, almost flat Arctic landscape and are works of pure abstraction with no discernible landmarks. Relying purely on color, Kigusiuq abstracted the Arctic environment, a landscape most people envision as lacking in all colours but white. Many of the artist’s abstract works consist of just three bands of muted colors, making these drawings courageously minimalist. Kigusiuq distilled the essence of the Arctic environment to its purest form – feeling – which is the hallmark of all abstract art. In this regard her art is not unlike that of Piet Mondrian who stated, “I wish to approach truth as closely as possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects.”
Collage was a radical departure for Kigusiuq and something completely new with regard to Inuit art when the artist produced a number of works in this newly introduced medium. “It takes less time to do a collage than to do a drawing . . . . A drawing in pencil crayon and pencil takes hours or even more than one day,” Kigusiuq explained. It is easy to see the appeal of this medium for an artist suffering with debilitating arthritis. Once the technical preparations for a collage have been completed the colours are laid down quickly. Kigusiuq’s collages reveal an artist who had become quite bold, experimenting with colour and abstraction as well as exploring the transparent and opaque qualities of a medium to which she had so recently been introduced. Viewing the Kigusiuq collages the work of Henri Matisse comes to mind, particularly his paper cutouts, a type of collage referred to as gouaches découpés and papiers coupes. Like Matisse, Monet, and Rothko, Kigusiuq felt free to pair down her work in daring ways late in her career. Like them, Kigusiuq would not let a physical challenge diminish her desire to make art and she created some of her most striking works in spite of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, which curled her fingers almost into fists. The artist’s determination in creating large colour field collages continues to amaze gallerists, collectors, and curators.
E. J. Guarino
To view available artworks by Janet Kigusiuq, click here.