In the popular imagination, the Arctic is a vast, flat, monochromatic landscape, which is always covered in snow. The truth is far different. Depending on the season, the land may be white, shades of brown, or multicolored from a profusion of flowers. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter bring with them a diversity of light, which also colors the landscape. Inuit artists have portrayed their northern homeland in a variety of styles from realistic to semi-abstract and abstract, impressionistic, and totally imagined landscapes. As other artists do, Northern artists have created works that feature natural scenery such as lakes, rivers, mountains, valleys, and coastlines that may or may not include people and/or animals. They have also produced seascapes, mountainscapes, aerial landscapes, and cityscapes.
Hermon River Landscape by William Noah, Inuit, Baker Lake, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 24” (2004). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Acrylic on canvas is an unusual medium for an Inuit artist. Drawings and prints are more common. Nonetheless, Hermon River Landscape is an exquisitely rendered work, which shows the Arctic’s more subdued hues. The river is presented as flowing towards the viewer and the banks are done in rich earth tones of browns, blacks, and grays. It is hard not to be drawn into the scene.
Composition (Dead-End River Landscape) by Padloo Samayualie, Inuit, Cape Dorset, colored pencil & Ink, 23” x 30” (2017). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Composition (Dead-End River Landscape) offers a vastly different image: one dominated by snow, sky, and mountains. The river nether rushes towards the viewer nor stretches to the horizon as in Hermon River Landscape. Although Padloo Samayalle is noted for her finely detailed realistic drawings, one is left to wonder if Dead-End River actually exists and, if so, how such a strange natural phenomenon came to be.
Next to Kinngait Mountain by Tim Pitsiulak, Inuit, Cape Dorset, colored pencil 47 3/4” x 49 1/2 (2012). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Since the image of a large mountain dominates Next to Kinngait Mountain, it qualifies as a mountainscape. Rather than simply depicting this massive peak solely in shades of grey and black, the artist reveals another area of the arctic that abounds in color by employing green, yellow, gold, and even red. Although it is most often a single animal that dominates the page in Inuit works on paper, it is unusual for a massive land feature to be represented in this way.
Summer by Jutai Toonoo, Inuit, Cape Dorset, oil pastel 47” x 56” (2010). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
One look at Summer by Jutai Toonoo should convince anyone that the Arctic is not devoid of all color except white. The work clearly shows a landscape defused with light and color – salmon, red, blue, black, grey, white, brown. This is the Arctic in summer. The long days provide enormous amounts of light, which stimulate plant growth. For a period of about six to ten weeks, the Arctic has twenty-four hours of sunlight. At this time, the more than 400 varieties of flowering plants bloom, covering the tundra with color.
Winter Time in the Valley of Cape Dorset by Itee Pootoogook, Inuit, Cape Dorset, colored pencil, 10” x 26” (2006). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Winter Time in the Valley of Cape Dorset presents a very different picture of the Arctic. This is the part of the year when the Arctic is shrouded in twenty-four hours of darkness. In spite of this, Itee Pootoogook created a work of subtle, muted tones. Even in winter, the Arctic is not simply one color. The artist created a work in which gray dominates to suggest the Arctic night, but he also employed white and black in order to produce a stark image.
Landscape with Water and Clouds by Siassie Kenneally, Inuit, Cape Dorset, ink, colored pencil, 20” x 26” (2005). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Employing a style that is both realistic as well as somewhat impressionistic, Siassie Kenneally has created a unique perspective of the topography around her hometown of Cape Dorset. Rendered in muted tones of brown, black, gray, and light green, Landscape with Water and Clouds affords the viewer a window into the artist’s world, but one which is not completely naturalistic. Nonetheless, one comes away with an idea of what the Arctic is really like.
Ashland Pl., New York City by Padloo Samayualie, Inuit, Cape Dorset, colored pencil & ink 23” x 15” (2017). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Many of Padloo Samayualie’s drawings were prompted by her time spent in New York in 2015 when she and fellow artist Papiara Tukiki inaugurated the first Cape Dorset Legacy Project, a creative residency at the Brooklyn Museum. The height and architectural diversity of the buildings, as well as the variety of shapes and geometric patterns, intrigued her and these were incorporated into her art. Upon returning to Cape Dorset, the artist produced a large number of drawings of cityscapes, which were inspired by the skyscrapers she saw as well as by the many architectural elements she encountered. Ashland Pl, New York City is just one example of Padloo Samayualie’s interest in the architecture she encountered in Manhattan.
Images from an aerial perspective are common in Inuit works on paper and a number of curators, writers, and collectors have speculated on why this may be so, though no one is one hundred percent sure. Unlike other artists who work on an easel, Inuit artists work on tables, looking down as they draw. It is believed that doing so may affect perception, resulting in aerial points of view. Siassie Kennealy’s Overview of Camp and Tony Anguhalluq’s Two Inuit are Fishing and Camping for the Week in July 2006 are two such works.
Overview of Camp by Siassie Kenneally, Inuit, Cape Dorset, pencil crayon, ink, 20” x 26” (2005/06). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Siassie Kenneally’s landscapes offer vibrant aerial views which, at first glance, appear to be abstracts but actually focus on specific, recognizable areas of her home community of Cape Dorset. In Overview of Camp, it is possible to make out a tent, rock outcroppings, and a lake. The colors are muted, suggesting the season may be early spring or fall.
Two Inuit are Fishing and Camping for the Week in July 2006 by Tony Anguhalluq, Inuit, Baker Lake, pencil crayon on paper, 10½”h x 13¾”w (2006). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Tony Anguhalluq has made a name for himself through his unique landscapes. Some contain images of humans, animals, and even modern equipment such as skidoos, but many are abstracted representations of the vast Arctic wilderness. Sometimes, as in Two Inuit are Fishing and Camping for the Week in July 2006, the artist employs an aerial perspective. Once again, it is possible to identify a tent as well as a boat, but the landmasses, mostly covered with dots to suggest rocks, and the water are abstracted.
Hunting Seals Going by Boat (diptych) Kavavaow Mannomee, Inuit,Cape Dorset, ink, each panel, 8”h x 26”wide (2007). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Often landscapes contain images of people, animals, structures, and other man-made objects. Kavavaow Mannomee’s Hunting Seals Going by Boat, a work that is somewhere between reality and fantasy, shows an Inuit encampment and a boat full of men being pulled by a dog team towards open water so that they can hunt for seals. To the casual viewer, the scene appears completely realistic but, as he often does, Kavavaow Mannomee has drawn the humans in such a way that they appear elf-like. The animals don’t seem quite normal either. One has the impression of having peered into a whimsical version of Inuit life.
Tidal Pool by Shuvinai Ashoona, lithograph on BFK Rives cream, Printer: Niviaksie Quvianaqtuliaq; 20/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 16” x 14,” Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection #31 (2007). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
In Tidal Pool Shuvinai Ashoona has created a world that is uniquely her own. While the sea creatures may look as if they have been realistically depicted, they have a strange, fanciful quality. Except for the red starfish, the scene is rendered in soft hues and the rocky terrain is obsessively detailed. All of the stones, down to the smallest, are delineated with great exactness. The artist is not trying to recreate an exact representation of a tidal pool on paper. Instead, she is giving the viewer an imaginary version of this wondrous marine habitat.
Untitled (Fantastical Landscape) by Shuvinai Ashoona, diptych, pencil crayon and ink, Inuit, Cape Dorset, each 12.25”h x 10”w (2004/2005). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
There is no other Inuit graphic artist who produces imagery quite like that of Shuvinai Ashoona. Known for her dark sense of humor, she has staked out a territory that is all her own. Untitled (Fantastical Landscape) is pure fantasy that seems to have emerged from the mind of Rube Goldberg. The work is one of the artist’s phantasmagorical landscapes. The imagery has no connection to a real landscape and is, instead, one that is surreal.
After Midnight in the Springtime by Itee Pootoogook, Inuit, Cape Dorset, colored pencil & pencil, 11” x 8 1/2” (2010). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Falling somewhere between realistic and abstract, After Midnight in the Springtime is made up of patches of color – brown, gray, blue, with yellow predominating. The yellow is so intense that it is almost garish, creating an emotional intensity that conveys to the viewer what the Arctic landscape is like during a particular season and time of day. Although Itee Pootoogook reduces sky, land, and water to strong shapes and bold colors, it is still possible to discern landforms.
Landscape by Ooloosie Saila, Inuit, Cape Dorset, colored pencil and ink, 23” x 30” (2015). Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Ooloosie Saila’s landscapes, created on a large scale, are very special drawings. They clearly represent the Arctic terrain, but are not rigidly realistic and explore varying degrees of abstraction. Landscape presents the viewer with dome-shaped mountains in the background that are covered with multicolored patterns. These shapes appear to have been collaged onto the piece but were created by the application of heavy pressure on the colored pencils used to draw them. The massive rock outcroppings have been relegated to the background while the foreground is dominated by three streaks of color – purplish-white, blue, and white. The recognizable mountains and cloud-filled sky anchor the work in representation. Without them, Landscape would be purely abstract.
High hills and mountain in June, 2007 by Tony Anguhalluq, Inuit, Baker Lake, colored pencil and graphite on paper, 14”h x 11”w (paper) (2007). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
Tony Anguhalluq’s work has been compared to that of Matisse, Gauguin, Bonnard, Milton Avery, and Japanese woodblock prints. Many of the artist’s drawings are abstracted representations of the vast Arctic wilderness. Sometimes an aerial perspective is used and at other times, as in High Hills and Mountain in June 2007, it is a front-on view that is employed. Anguhalluq’s aesthetic is definitely contemporary. The land is not presented in a realistic manner but, instead, the artist uses bold blocks of color juxtaposed in often unexpected combinations to suggest depth while hills are reduced to angular lines. Anguhalluq does not try to hide the fact that the viewer is looking at a flat surface by creating the illusion of reality. He is more interested in the emotional responses evoked by the colors he utilizes.
Two Seasons by Itee Pootoogook, lithograph on BFK Rives grey, Printer: Niviaksie Quvianaqtuliaq, 36/50, Inuit, Cape Dorset, 11”h x 33”w, Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection # 3 (2008). Collection of E. J. Guarino. Photo courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto, and Dorset Fine Arts.
The Arctic landscape is reduced to form and color in Two Seasons. Itee Pootoogook abstracts the land, sea, and sky through the use of stark geometric shapes and a limited palette. The artist deftly captures the austere nature of the Far North with triangles as well as suggesting the differences between summer and winter through the use of yellow and blue. Furthermore, the size and shape of the work (an eleven-inch high by thirty-three inch wide rectangle, unusual for Inuit prints) convey the Arctic’s vastness. Itee Pootoogook was fascinated with this minimalist reduction of the Arctic landscape to a few geometric shapes and colors and produced other prints as well as quite a number of drawings in this style.
Arctic Landscape (Sky, Land, Water) by Janet Kigusiuq is a work of pure abstraction. Despite the title, it contains no physical landmarks. The artist has distilled the essence of the Arctic to its purest form – feeling – which is the hallmark of all abstract art. Collage was a radical departure for Kigusiuq and something completely new with regard to Inuit art when the artist produced a number of works in this recently introduced medium. Kigusiuq’s collages reveal an artist who had become quite bold, experimenting with color and abstraction as well as exploring the transparent and opaque qualities of a medium to which she had so recently been introduced. Throughout her career, Janet Kigusiuq created visually striking prints and drawings that focused on life as it was once lived on the land and Inuit mythology. She also produced abstract and semi-abstract drawings of the Arctic landscape. Her collages were the culmination of her fascination with abstraction.
As Inuit artists have traveled outside their northern communities they have produced landscapes of other terrains as well as cityscapes. However, for the most part, they create artfully composed images of their homeland that inspire mystery and awe since most people will never visit the Arctic. Many of these works are realistic, but others are whimsical, abstract, or surreal. In their use of color, a number of the works are luminous in their depiction of natural scenery, particularly the effects of light during the Arctic summer. Some landscapes are employed as background settings for figural scenes. With an ever increasing interest in the Arctic, landscapes provide insight into a region of the world that is unlike any other.