Published on November 2, 2010 by John
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Alex Janvier was born on Le Goff Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, northern Alberta in 1935 of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent. At the age of eight, he was sent to the Blue Quills Residential Indian School near St. Paul, Alberta, where the principal recognized his innate artistic talent and encouraged him in his art. Alex Janvier received formal art training from the Alberta Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary (now the Alberta College of Art and Design) and graduated with honours in 1960. Immediately after graduation, Janvier took up an opportunity to instruct art at the University of Alberta. In 1966, the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs commissioned him to produce 80 paintings. He helped bring together a group of artists for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, among them Norval Morrisseau and Bill Reid. Janvier currently runs a gallery called Janvier Gallery in Cold Lake, AB with his family.
Alex Janvier, the ‘first Canadian native modernist’, has created a unique style of modernist abstraction, his own “visual language”, informed by the rich cultural and spiritual traditions and heritage of the Dene in northern Alberta. His abstract style is particularly suited to large-scale works.
Alex Janvier signed his paintings with his Treaty Number from 1966 to 1977 to protest government policies against Aboriginal people.
At the river end of the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization is a dome rising seven stories above the granite floor. Nineteen metres (62 feet) in diameter, the dome is adorned with Alex Janvier’s striking abstract painting Morning Star. With the assistance of his son Dean, Janvier began painting in June 1993 and finished in September the same year. Morning Star covers 418 square metres (4,500 square feet).
The title Morning Star refers to the morning star as a guide or a means of finding direction. Each of the four distinct areas of colour in the outside ring represents a period in Native history:
“In the yellow quadrant, a balance of colour and shape reflects a time when the First Peoples were in harmony with nature, with the Great Spirit, and with each other. However, also represented in this yellow area is the arrival of Columbus in 1492, which changed the world of the First Peoples forever.
In the blue quadrant, a lack of decoration signifies the weakness of Native culture, overwhelmed by European culture. According to Janvier, the more Christianized Native people became, the more they turned to organic, flowing designs and the less they produced geometric designs.
The red quadrant depicts a time of revival and a new optimism. Struggle and disenchantment give way to a new determination on the part of First Peoples to take charge of their own future.
The last quadrant, white to link back to the white centre of Morning Star, portrays healing, renewed self-respect, reconciliation and restructuring – a return to a state of harmony. It represents the period following the point at which Janvier created Morning Star.”
2010 Member of the Alberta Order of Excellence
2008 Mairon Nicoll Visual Art Award, Alberta Foundation for the Arts
2008 University of Calgary Honourary Degree, Doctor of Laws
2008 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts
2008 University of Alberta Honourary Degree (Doctorate of Laws)
2007 Member of the Order of Canada.
2005 Centennial Medal for outstanding service to the people and province of Alberta.
2002 National Aboriginal Achievement Award
2001 Tribal Chiefs Institute Lifetime Achievement Award.
2001 Cold Lake First Nations Lifetime Achievement Award.
1992 Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts.
1985 Canada/China Cross Cultural Exchange Tour.
Films and Television
2006 CBC ArtSpot
2004 The Sharing Circle, segment featuring Alex Janvier.
1991 Investment in Art, Alberta Art Foundation, Edmonton, Alberta.
1991 Echo Des Songes, Arthur Lamothe, Montreal, Quebec.
1984 Seeing It Our Way: Alex Janvier, CBC Edmonton.
1983 Our Native Land: Alex Janvier, CBC/CBO.
1973 Canadian Indian Canvas, Henning Jacobsen Productions, Toronto, Ontario.
1973 Colours of Pride, National Film Board of Canada.
1973 Alex Janvier: The Native Artist, Alberta Native Communications Society.
1960 Fine Arts Diploma, Alberta College of Art, Calgary, Alberta.
Alberta Art Foundation, Government of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.
Alberta Indian Arts and Crafts Society, Edmonton, Alberta.
AMACO Canada Ltd., Calgary, Alberta.
The Late Helen E. Band Collection, Toronto, Ontario.
The Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Memorial Collection, Montreal, Quebec.
The Canada Council Art Bank, Hull, Quebec.
Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec.
Cinader Collection, Toronto, Ontario.
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, Ontario.
Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Ottawa, Ontario.
City of Edmonton, Edmonton, Alberta.
Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta.
Edmonton Public Schools Board, Edmonton, Alberta.
Esso Oil Resources, Calgary, Alberta.
Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta.
Government of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.
Gulf Oil Resources, Calgary, Alberta.
McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario.
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Montreal, Quebec.
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.
The Late Lester B. Pearson Collection, Ottawa, Ontario.
Petro-Canada, Calgary, Alberta.
Shell Canada, Calgary, Alberta.
Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Toronto Dominion Bank, Toronto, Ontario.
Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba.