Until recently, I had never heard of Pitseolak Qimirpik. However, in early March of 2023, I attended the Outsider Art Fair in New York City at the invitation of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto. When I stopped by the gallery’s booth, one piece jumped out at me, a sculpture by Pitseolak Qimirpik titled Autoerotic Asphyxia. This was certainly a piece that not only pushed boundaries but broke them. I immediately bought the carving though I must admit that, as a collector, doing so is an anomaly. When one lives in an apartment, even a large one, three-dimensional artworks can be problematic so I have generally gravitated towards works on paper. A few months later in June, Feheley Fine Arts presented an exhibition of Pitseolak Qimirpik’s sculptures and drawings. Once again, I was astounded and acquired two of the drawings. I never know what will pique my interest. It might be a landscape, a scene of traditional life as it was once lived on the land, or a wild contemporary work. These days, I am most often attracted to art that, in some way, pushes boundaries in new and exciting ways. Pitseolak Qimirpik’s art certainly meets that criteria. The choice of his subjects and how he presents them is nothing less than a paradigm shift in Inuit art.
Autoerotic Asphyxia by Pitseolak Qimirpik, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Sculpture in stone, antler, artificial sinew, 8” x 6” x 2” (2021). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Image courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto and Dorset Fine Arts, Toronto.
What to make of Autoerotic Asphyxia? Its subject matter is certainly not typical of what most Inuit artists produce. Generally, nudity as a theme in Inuit art, though it exists, is rare. Perhaps the Arctic climate has something to do with it, but it might be the influence of Christianity in its many denominations. Though there are exceptions, Pitseolak Qimirpik being one of them, whatever the reason, the majority of contemporary Inuit artists do not create sexually explicit works and most definitely do not produce any that deal with the fetishistic aspects of sexuality.
Autoerotic asphyxia is not part of the average person’s repertoire. Practiced by many cultures throughout history, this fetish involves the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain in the belief that it heightens arousal and pleasure. Whether enacted alone, as depicted by Pitseolak Qimirpik’s sculpture, or with another person, this sexual practice can result in death.
Why Pitseolak Qimirpik chose to portray this particular erotic activity remains a mystery. However, it should not be assumed that he is involved in this particular fetish. It is possible that the artist knew someone who died as a result of autoerotic asphyxia or, since the wider world is available via movies and, especially, the Internet the artist may have encountered this fetish in one of these settings and was fascinated enough to create a carving depicting it.
Pitseolak Qimirpik has created other erotic sculptures consisting of people in various sexual positions, but none have been as controversial as Autoerotic Asphyxia.
Acid Spider Eating Black Worm by Pitseolak Qimirpik, Inuit, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), colored pencil, 15” x 22 5/8” (2022). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Image courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto and Dorset Fine Arts, Toronto.
Pitseolak Qimirpik’s use of color and line in Acid Spider Eating Black Worm is uninhibited, frenetic, and visually arresting while his use of a strange and unusually long title adds a bit of humor. However, it once again causes the viewer to wonder what the artist was thinking when he created this drawing. In addition to brown and black, Pitseolak Qimirpik has employed a range of what the title suggests: acid colors – greens, shades of orange, blue, yellow, gold, and purple. Some hues are used more than others, but the most vibrant are reserved for the body of the spider, which rests on a multicolored web unlike any seen in nature. In addition, the spider is eating a worm, which seems odd. However, although most people know that spiders eat insects, it is not common knowledge that there are quite a number of these arachnids that do eat worms. How Pitseolak Qimirpik knew of this living in the arctic is yet another mystery though it might be another case of information having arrived by way of TV or the Internet, or it may simply be a product of the artist’s vivid imagination.
Space Earth Weather/Cloud Crown Fish by Pitseolak Qimirpik, Inuit, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), colored pencil, 15” x 22 5/8” (2022). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto and Dorset Fine Arts, Toronto.
Pitseolak Qimirpik’s Space Earth Weather/Cloud Crown Fish is another work that can, in the common parlance, best be described as wild and wacky. I was instantly attracted to this drawing because it looked to me like some sort of insane spaceship. (I hadn’t yet read the title.) Space Earth Weather/Cloud Crown Fish is unusually long as Inuit titles go, but it is part of the enjoyment of Pitseolak Qimirpik’s art.
The image presented to the viewer has planets, clouds, an orange sunburst, a tricolor rainbow, lightening, a tree, a tulip, orange and black splotches, an orange splat, and fins that look as if they would be better suited as oars or boat rudders. What the viewer sees appears to be some sort of fish, as the title implies, but it is more of a fantasy fish than an actual one. Although the words cloud, crown, and fish are in the title, in reality, there is no such fish. Cloudfish exist as do clownfish, but there is no such thing as a cloud crown fish or a crown fish. However, the creature that Pitseolak Qimirpik created is oddly reminiscent of Nemo, a clownfish who is the main character in Disney’s animated film Finding Nemo. Perhaps, perhaps not.
Pitseolak Qimirpik’s art encompasses a diverse range of subjects – Arctic animals such as owls, eagles, muskoxen, bears, walruses, narwals, dancing rabbits the artists refers to as Hip Hop Hares, transformation pieces, devils, human figures, the Simpsons, as well as erotic works. Not all of these themes appeal to all collectors, but by exploring them artists like Pitseolak Qimirpik are helping to liberate Inuit art from the expected in terms of style, form, and subject matter.