The McMichael Canadian Art Collection’s summer exhibition showcases the work of one of the most important early artist alliances in Canada. 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. is on from May 9 to September 7, 2015.
Gathering informally in the early 1970s, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Alex Janvier, Carl Ray, and Joseph Sanchez officially incorporated their group as the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. (PNIAI) in February 1974. This “Group of Seven” was a groundbreaking cultural and political entity that self-organized to demand recognition as professional, contemporary artists. They challenged old constructs and stimulated a new way of thinking about contemporary First Nations people, their lives, and art.
The exhibition draws on both private and public collections to bring together a variety of artworks including recently uncovered masterworks of the period that have not been accessible to the public for many years. The exhibition focuses exclusively on that crucial decade during which the seven artists were active as a group; exemplifying the range and diversity of work being produced by the PNIAI in the 1970s.
Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig and Joseph Sanchez are all still practicing artists and were each interviewed about the group and their work for the Summer/Fall 2015 issue of McMichael Magazine. Below are quotes from those interviews:
“Do you feel the PNIAI was able to accomplish what it set out to?”
“Yes, there is more awareness of native arts, an inclusion in the Canadian art canon. The paintings of Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, and Alex Janvier are a legacy in the history of art in Canada, and the work of the rest of the group inspired others to follow suit, banding together and speaking in one voice. A spark was ignited during that time that still burns today.” (Joseph Sanchez in discussion with Rachel Weiner.)
“Do you see yourself continuing to paint for the foreseeable future?”
“As long as I can lift a brush and my eyes can see the colours, I’ll continue.”
“Are you able to describe how you feel when you’re painting?”
“I feel free. A free person. A free human being.” (Alex Janvier in discussion with Rachel Weiner.)
Jann L.M. Bailey wrote about Odjig’s interactions with the McMichaels as detailed in Robert McMichael’s book, One Man’s Obsession. When I first got in touch with Daphne Odjig in the 1970s, it was arranged that several of her canvases would be sent to Kleinburg so we could make a selection.
In a letter to McMichael dated April 21, 1975, Odjig specifies, “I have today sent four paintings for your selection. I appreciate the opportunity of having my work in the McMichael Canadian Collection.”
On May 5, 1975, McMichael wrote back to Odjig, indicating, “I want to thank you for sending the four fine paintings by you for our Collection. We have selected three for purchase by the Collection. I hope, possibly when the Gallery is opened, you might have an opportunity to visit the Collection. I would like very much to meet.”
In the final correspondence to Robert McMichael on May 12, 1975, Odjig wrote, “I would also like to meet you and tour the McMichael Collection.”
Odjig visited and kept in touch with the McMichaels, and over time they became good friends. It seems very fitting that the work that she and the others did with the Professional Native Artists Inc. during that same time period should now be exhibited at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.