Johnny Pootoogook: Nocturne

DOWNTOWN VIEW, 2021, Coloured pencil, 15 x 22 1/8 in.

Amid the quiet darkness of evening or night, light finds its way through. It illuminates the green exterior wall of the Peter Pitseolak High School, and glows through the windows of buildings near the Water Point Area. It also naturally occurs in the aurora borealis as a green or blue glow dancing across the sky. These subtle instances of luminescence make the nocturne visible—a mere streetlight can rescue a scene from disappearing into darkness. This modest presence of light allows artist Johnny Pootoogook to delicately capture such scenes of his home community of Kinngait, Nunavut.

Pootoogook masterfully works on the unforgiving medium of black paper to simulate the night. He uses coloured pencil to bring forth the scene through highlights, an entirely opposite approach than the one used when working on white paper. Through his effective use of highlights, Pootoogook fosters an atmosphere of realism that changes from scene to scene. In Downtown View (2021), the orange and yellow hues suggest a warm glow from the incandescent streetlights. By contrast, in Lights – Mulliujaq (2021), a stark white light illuminates the building windows, suggesting the presence of cool-toned fluorescent bulbs used within. In Street Lights Valley (2021) Pootoogook’s highlights are small and minimal, effectively encapsulating a long shot of the houses in the valley, illuminated by streetlights. The silhouette of Kinngait mountain is also made visible by the aurora borealis glowing in the background. Here, Pootoogook skillfully uses the layering of light and dark to formulate a comprehensive scene; both a landscape and townscape in the night.

Pootoogook’s drawings in Nocturne present a view of the Arctic that is not defined by snow, a perspective lesser known and seen by a Southern audience. Night scenes are among the most difficult to successfully depict, and only a few artists from Kinngait have become recognized for theirs, including Itee Pootoogook (1951–2014) and Tim Pitsiulak (1967–2016). [Johnny] Pootoogook’s delicate and detailed style lends itself well to the subject, emulating realism and bringing forth the beauty evident in the Kinngait night.

About the Artist

Johnny Pootoogook (b. 1970) has been involved with the Kinngait Studios since childhood. Over the past decade he has placed a particular focus on drawing, generating a diverse body of work that reflects on life in the North. His subjects of local animals, people, and landscapes are executed with meticulous detail and eye-catching compositions. Pootoogook notably turned heads with his large-scale drawings at Art Toronto in 2019. In 2021, Feheley Fine Arts presented his first solo exhibition Johnny Pootoogook: Views from Home. Graphics by Pootoogook have also been included in the Annual Cape Dorset Print Collections of 1992, 1993, and 2020. His work can be found in the collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Canadian Museum of History, the Hamilton Art Gallery, and many private and corporate collections.

To view available artworks by Johnny Pootoogook, click here.