Kenojuak Ashevak: Queen of Canadian Art

This blog comes from a two-part series from guest writer, Edd Guarino. Edd is an established contemporary art collector, specializing in Native American and Inuit Art.

For art lovers and collectors worldwide, Kenojuak Ashevak’s prints are the face of both Inuit and contemporary Canadian art.  Though famous for her prints, Kenojuak produced art in a variety of other media such as drawing and sculpture, also creating designs for stained glass and textiles.  Age did not diminish her creativity.  Even when she was well into her eighties, Kenojuak continued to produce powerful images that were always fresh and surprising.  Her unique vision made her one of Canada’s most popular and important contemporary artists, with work in museum collections around the globe.

Kenojuak’s body of prints range from highly stylized representational pieces to the delightfully surreal.  In her fantastical world an owl can be blue, a swan pink, a polar bear yellow, a fox bright red, a goose golden, and a fish can even have leaf-like fins. Kenojuak’s art emphases composition, placement of imagery, fluid lines, the use of positive and negative space, and the interplay of colors and shapes, rather than a strict conformity to reality.

Over the course of her artistic career, Kenojuak employed a variety of printing techniques including: lithography, lithography and stencil, stonecut, stonecut and stencil, etching, etching and aquatint, as well as etching, aquatint, and sugar lift.  Kenojuak was always willing to explore new ways of creating prints.

Although her prints are the most well-known aspect of her output, Kenojuak also produced hundreds of drawings that would be considered atypical by those only familiar with her print work.  In recent years, however, the artist’s drawings have been made available to a wide range of collectors.  One can only marvel at the range of subject matter in Kenojuak’s drawings: landscapes, scenes of life as it was once lived on the land, and images of animals other than birds.

Kenojuak did not explore the darker aspects of life.  However, it should be noted that it was extremely rare for artists of her generation to do so, and the same was true of the generation that followed.  It was not until the third generation that a wide range of Inuit artists began to explore controversial subject matter.  Instead, Kenojuak gave us vibrant images that make the viewer feel happy to be alive.

Kenojuak once stated, “I am an owl, and I am a happy owl. I like to make people happy and everything happy. I am the light of happiness . . . .”  This philosophy is evident in all of the artist’s work and because of it, Kenojuak’s art can be appreciated by anyone for its beauty. Kenojuak’s influence cannot be overestimated.  In Canada, she is an artistic icon and a national treasure—her  work has been reproduced on three Canadian stamps as well as on a Canadian quarter and a $10.00 bank note.  Kenojuak remains an enduring inspiration for younger generations of Inuit artists and her work continues to attract an international base of collectors.

Edd Guarino, 2023

To view our current exhibition “Kenojuak Ashevak – To Make Something Beautiful”, click here.