By CLINT BUEHLER
EDMONTON – Renowned Aboriginal has added the first annual $50,000 Alberta Visual Arts Award to his many honours.
It’s well-deserved recognition for a lifetime of ground-breaking and prolific artistic achievement.
Also this year, Janvier received the Governor’s General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts and an Honourary Doctorate from the University of Alberta. In 2007 he was made a member of the Order of Canada, and in 2005 he received the Alberta Centennial Medal for outstanding service to the people and province of Alberta.
In 2002, Janvier received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, in 2001 the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tribal Chiefs Institute, and in 2001 the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cold Lake First Nation.
Janvier has painted a number of murals across Canada, had his work exhibited across Canada and internationally, and his thousands of painting are in public, corporate and private collections around the world. He may be best known, however, for “Morning Star,” the massive (covering 450 square meters) circular mural he painted in 1993—with the help of his son, Dean—on the dome of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. That led to him often being referred to as the “Indian Michaelangelo,” and “Alexangelo.”
Alex Janvier was born in 1935, of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent, on the Cold Lake reserve in Northeastern Alberta, where he was raised until, at eight years old, he was uprooted from his home and sent to the Blue Quills Residential School near St. Paul.
He says he had creative instincts as long as he could remember, but it was there that he not only found the tools to create his first paintings, but was encouraged by Father Rolande.
One of the first Aboriginal artists to receive formal training, Janvier graduated with honours from the Alberta College of Art in Calgary in 1960 and was immediately hired to teach art at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
His distinctive painting style, with its intertwined curvilinear lines soon began to attract attention. While he admits his work is influenced by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinski and the Swiss artist Paul Klee, he also credits the beadwork and birch bark basketry of his mother and other relatives.
Many of his masterpieces use both abstract and representational images, incorporating a strong palette, and deal with issues affecting Native people as well as the challenges and celebrations of his own life.
The early success of his unique vision led to his first commission, a mural for the Indian Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Many more would follow.
In 1973, Janvier joined forces with Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness and Joseph Sanchez to create Professional National Indian Artists Inc., designed not only to promote their own work, but to provide support and encouragement to emerging young Native artists.
A Winnipeg newspaper reporter soon dubbed them the “Indian Group of Seven,” although the fact there were seven of them was happenstance, and not intentional. The name stuck.
They joined together for a initial group exhibition in Winnipeg, and subsequent shows in Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal before dissolving the group to pursue their individual careers.
While Norval Morrisseau’s stunning success a decade earlier had broken the barrier to bringing Native art into the mainstream, Janvier and his colleagues would open the door of opportunity to a second wave of Native artists emerging in the 1980s.
Neither age nor health problems have slowed Janvier down much. As he continues his prolific creative output, he not only continues to exhibit successfully in commercial galleries across the country, but has opened his own gallery and museum in Cold Lake, which he runs with the assistance of his family.