1911 - 2007
stone carving, circa 1970 - 1975
18 x 22 x 31 in 45.7 x 55.9 x 78.7 cm
Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000
Sold for: $31,250
Preview at: PacArt, Toronto
Eaton's Art Gallery, Toronto
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Toronto
George Swinton, “Eskimo Art Reconsidered,” artscanada, nos. 162/163, December 1971 / January 1972, pages 85 - 94
Jean Blodgett, editor, Port Harrison / Inoucdjouac, Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1977
A. Barry Roberts, The Inuit Artists of Inoucdjouac, P.Q., 1978
Ingo Hessel, Inuit Art: An Introduction, 1998
Céline Saucier, Guardians of Memory: Sculpture-Women of Nunavik, 1998
Maria von Finckenstein, Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948 - 1970, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1999, page 59
Darlene Wight, Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture 1949 - 1955, Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2006, pages 82 - 87
Sandra Dyck, editor, Sanattiaqsimajut: Inuit Art from the Carleton University Art Gallery Collection, Carleton University Art Gallery, 2009, pages 31, 47, 187 and 189
Gerald McMaster, editor, Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2010, pages 26, 36, 64 and 105
Darlene Wight, Creation and Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art, Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2012, page 89
Johnny Inukpuk was one of a few artists, including Akeeaktashuk and Osuitok Ipeelee, to become renowned for his strong, individual artistic style in the early years of contemporary Inuit art. Sought after by private collectors and public art galleries alike, Inukpuk’s sculptures are known for their visual interest and composition, their expressive voluminous forms, their attention to detail, and the effective use of contrasting surface finishes. Inukpuk came from the community of Inukjuak (also spelled Inoucdjouac, formerly known as Port Harrison) in Nunavik (previously called Arctic Quebec). Inukjuak, on the east coast of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Innuksuak River, is considered to be the birthplace of Inuit art, beginning in 1949.
Inukpuk was the camp leader at Kuttaaq, about 65 miles north of Inukjuak, a position which signaled the respect he had earned in his community. While admired for his hunting and trapping skills, Inukpuk has also acknowledged the role of sculpture in supporting his family. He said that when James Houston encouraged the Inuit to carve, beginning in 1948, carving gave them a new independence. Inukpuk moved his family, including his wife Mary and his children, into the settlement of Inukjuak in 1965. Two of his children – Charlie Inukpuk and Adamie Inukpuk – also became sculptors of note.
Bear Attack is a spectacular sculpture. In this magnificent work, Johnny Inukpuk clearly demonstrates his ability to master a very complex scene full of action, violence and tragedy. Although Inukpuk is better known for his sculptures of women - many with a commanding presence far exceeding their physical size - this theme does not totally define the artist. Here a massive bear dominates the scene with its huge volume, bulging limbs, and ferocious teeth that are firmly dug into the young woman. In addition to its evocative shape, the bear has been carefully rendered – its expressive, swelling form has been painstakingly etched to convey its textured coat. Its paws, even the one almost hiding under its body, are accurately depicted. They reveal the knowledge of a skilled hunter. Details of the woman under attack - her beautiful braids, the seaming and ties on her kamiks (boots), the curving hem of her amautiq (parka) – add authenticity to the scene. Yet their very prosaic quality also serves to underline the drama of the struggle.
To one side of the main scene, a woman with a baby perched in the hood of her amautiq struggles with a bear and seems at that moment to have the upper hand as she has the bear pinned down. Perhaps this depicts act 1 in the attack. Here too, the contrast in the finish and the attention to detail contribute to the complexity of the scene. Two other figures – a man trying to grab the bear in the main scene and an animal (perhaps a dog) biting at the bear’s rump - are in the fight, but this is not an event that is going to turn out well.
There are other instances of Inukpuk depicting bear attacks in his work. The artist himself survived an attack by three polar bears, defending himself with a stick as his rifle was out of reach. The enormity of this event led the Inukjuak community of printmakers to help the artist record the scene in a 1974 stonecut print titled A True Story of Johnny Being Attacked by 3 Bears While in His Igloo.
Most significant for an understanding of Bear Attack is a note from the artist that accompanied a smaller sculpture of a similar subject - it reveals the importance of oral history in his creative process. The translation of the note was given as follows:
“This story happened somewhere between Great Whale River [Kuujjuarapik] and Port Harrison. There once lived a man named Asinasa who had a wife named Imialuk. They could not have babies so they had adopted a girl. The parents were hungry. Then one morning the girl caught a seal. She was on her way home walking to the shore when she was eaten by a polar bear. The father got home when it was getting dark and found that his daughter was eaten and nobody saw the seal. This happened in February 1926.”
Bear Attack has a special place in any consideration of Inukpuk’s long career as a leading Inuit sculptor. Emerging as it does from decades in private hands, it now adds considerably to the understanding of the importance of Inukpuk as an Inuit and Canadian artist. Moreover, it is a major artwork in its own right.
We thank Susan Gustavison, independent curator and author of numerous books and exhibition catalogues including Northern Rock: Contemporary Inuit Stone Sculpture, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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