Ceremony by Arlene Ness depicts traditional head gear in silhouette. (Tom Best photo)

Ceremony by Arlene Ness depicts traditional head gear in silhouette. (Tom Best photo)

Something mysterious about art and life that is not perfect

Gitxsan artist explains her exhibit at Smithers Art Gallery.

The current showing at the Smithers Art Gallery is a wonderful opportunity to experience both the traditional and a blend with more modern forms.

Arlene Ness is a Gitxsan artist from Hazelton and her showing is a collection of cultural imagery based on ancient totem poles. Her artwork includes carvings, jewelry, paintings and prints. Ness was a recipient of the 2015 BC Creative Achievement Awards for First Nations Art.

Arimathea Pappas is from Clinton, and has an exciting show of art created from natural materials such as wood-barks, antlers and mosses. In addition, she has sculptural pieces from clay. Her artwork is heavily influenced by nature and the spiritual traditions of the Indigenous peoples’ connection to the Earth.

Ness has been painting in different mediums since high school and has been carving around 10 years. She likes to show her work locally first before sending it off to larger areas.

“It’s good to have the outlet of the larger centres such as Seattle and be able to stay at home. Shows like this help to keep the native art accessible,” she said.

Her hometown is Hazelton and her family has been very involved in artwork. She says her favorite form of native art work is carving moon masks which are used in the portrayal of history, legends and personal history.

For example, some of the hats that can be seen are worn by matriarchs — and are very practical, being worn during rain. They usually have the traditional colours of the particular families that own the crests. These main colours have particular meanings.

Her sculptures are based on traditional three dimensional forms such as totem poles

“The traditional pieces that I do that are sculptural are based on old pieces that I’ve studied. I don’t really copy them but I take that same translation. The technique is learned by studying the old pieces,” she said.

Her art requires more than just a casual glance. One must look carefully at the art to see everything. For example in one piece, the moon has a figure of a bear within it that is not noticed at first look.

Pappas said that after living here and leaving, she is always drawn back. The beauty of the area and the creativity of so many of the residents make it a great place for an artist to live and work.

“I’m a mixed media artist. I love combining natural elements. I absolutely love clay. It was one of the first things I worked with as a child. With my love for nature and natural objects I just combined the two together,” she said.

She collects natural objects and materials such as bark and moss from fallen trees and antlers that have been found in the woods and combines them to create her works of art.

“Most people would just burn it up but I’ve decided to reuse it,” she said.

People bring her materials from all over the world such as beads from Czechoslovakia, which she incorporates into her pieces.

In addition, she does not simply throw away work that is imperfect. She uses it as part of her art on the basis that life is not perfect.

“There is something mysterious about it and that is something that artists should try to portray,” she said.

She says that she will get a vision of what she wants to create and then gets busy making it.

The show can be seen at the Art Gallery until May 12.


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