Here is an excerpt about Alano Edzerza, found in the book “Challenging Traditions” (2009).
Like so many of his contemporaries, Alano Edzerza, a young artist of Tahltan ancestry, did not originally consider an artistic career. Born in Victoria in 1980, he spent his childhood between that city and Terrace. Although interested in art from an early age, Edzerza pursued a number of alternative careers at college before deciding to try and make his living as an artist. In his pursuit he was strongly influenced by both his mother, who worked at the Royal British Columbia Museum and who encouraged him to look at and read books about First Nations art when he was young, and his uncle, a buyer for the museum’s gift shop, who introduced him to carvers such as Stan Hunt, Terry Starr and Art Thompson. To begin with, Edzerza was not particularly interested in First Nations art, and his first works were in the western European tradition, which he felt was the real art. As a result he spent a number of years “floating around”; he went to college to train as an ambulance attendant, then switched to computers and enrolled in a bachelor’s program. But none of these avenues proved fulfilling.
The example of his cousin, the working artist Terrence Campbell, decided Edzerza on a different course. In his late teens he began to work with Campbell, travelling with him to Arizona where he worked with the jeweller Rick Charlie, learning casting and engraving. This training marked the beginning of Edzerza’s career as an artist. When he returned to Canada at age twenty-one, he continued jewellery-making, working with his cousin and studying the work of artists such as Bill Reid.
He began to draw extensively, and drawing continues to provide the basis for all his work. Indeed, Edzerza feels that he “wants to concentrate on drawing, which is the life force behind all art.” An artist, he feels, must “learn the rules, but must be an artist to make the rules work.” For Edzerza it “all comes down to drawing and designing: ninety-nine per cent of the focus is on drawing.”
From jewellery, Edzerza moved on to working with glass, sculpting, painting and printmaking. He uses his drawings as sources for all of these works but generally chooses to realize a particular form in what he decides is the strongest medium for it. He has worked intensively with glass from a time when few others were doing so; he enjoyed the collaborative process and was lucky to find co-workers who could assist him in realizing his design ideas and allow him to closely control the pieces.
While his own work was progressing, Edzerza continued to spend a great deal of time looking at the work of other artists, notably Dempsey Bob, Dale Campbell and Stan Bevan, and reading about and studying Tsimshian style, which he regards as the strictest of northern styles. He produced work steadily, making glass jewellery and occasionally paintings, but much of this work was determined by the vagaries of the marketplace.
As Edzerza himself notes, his urban upbringing afforded him little opportunity to participate in ceremony. Invitations to do so, from the people of Alert Bay and artist Beau Dick, have been important in broadening his understanding of the importance of art and ritual and have kindled a desire to explore this aspect of his own heritage.
Edzerza’s strong sense of design has been critical to his success, both aesthetically and within the marketplace. He views formline art as having a universal application, but he is also interested in a variety of other art forms, including Japanese and African art and art of the Pacific Rim. He notes that ongoing observation and appreciation is critical to his own learning process. The examples of other artists, such as Robert Davidson, have suggested directions for Edzerza to take his own art, notably into painting and printmaking, but he has developed a stylistic identity all his own. Although he has not been formally trained in the use of colour and wants to study this aspect of art more formally, his striking colour combinations, a feature of his paintings, prints and glasswork, have been critical to his success.
The 2006 work His Face of Blankets is a notable example of his skills as a designer. Using a stylized face form from a Chilkat blanket, Edzerza has created a vivid contemporary version using modern design materials while paying respect to earlier artwork. The face is repeated eight times in total, in a totem of four running up the centre of the work and then, surprisingly, in four inverted half-faces flanking the totem on either side. The decision to use sandblasted glass raised above the Plexiglas and cedar background gives the work a greater sense of substance and more clearly defines the repeating linear pattern of the design. The yellow colour of the Plexiglas echoes the traditional yellow used in Chilkat blankets, but his work is clearly of the present day.
Equally striking, and perhaps even more inventive, is the 2007 screen print Thinking Like a Raven. Although it contains only three colours, black, grey and red, it is an exciting visual image. Edzerza, who does his own printing, regards the medium of screen printing as important for advancing his design skills, and the crisp linear patter and scintillating use of the compositional field show how well-honed these skill snow are. The close cropping of the image suggests the influence of Japanese art, but the sure use of the formline, U shapes and ovoids prove that the artist has absorbed his studies well. Also striking is that the work it does not recall the graphic style of anyone else; it is clearly a work by Alano Edzerza alone.
Still at an early stage of his career, Edzerza is often concerned about the realities of paying the rent. But his imagination has taken his art in rich and varied directions. There seems little doubt that with his energy and skill he will be a forceful presence in the art world for years to come.
- Ian M. Thom