Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Urban Shaman Gallery
February 9 – March 9, 2007
There is an early work by Linus Woods, from 1992 that depicts, in a somewhat Impressionistic style, a burial scene in
which family and friends are having a "feast to please the
spirits."1 On the back of the small canvas is a hand-printed list of
the attendees overlaid by a newspaper clipping of a card of thanks…
fragments of a moment, shards of a life. It is easy to imagine that,
among the shattered trees in the background of the Long Plain
setting lurks a hare, waiting, absorbing, or simply observing the
proceedings. It is also worth noting that Linus is both involved in
the event and also an invisible spectator.
Like the "rabbit-ears" on a 50s television set, Woods' work
retrieves and transmits
subliminally powerful messages. From his conscious, subconscious and
superconscious experiences, Linus Woods draws images and texts that
are both spontaneous and layered; however, underneath, there is an
elusive coherence which is consistent with his painting style, and,
playfully, previous fragments keep reappearing.
Thus texts and vision, message and medium, direction and
misdirection support work that is enigmatically accessible,
fundamentally spiritual, and subversively political.
Enigmatically Accessible and notes on Perception:
"This art is about an individual journey through self-discovery and
cultural understanding, yet each work is executed with such beauty
that every eye will find much to appreciate."4 In her review of Linus Woods' exhibition at St. John's College in 2003, Whitney Light
goes on to suggest that the "subtleness of the commentary that the
imagery implies is appealing." She adds, "On one level, these are
paintings about painting, with rich colours, sensuously applied. On
another, they are imbued with personal significance."
Linus graciously shared with me in March his hand-written
texts/notes for many of the Urban Shaman exhibition images; I share,
for comparison and contrast, my notes and observations on revisiting
the show Tuesday, February 20, 2007, without any previous contact
with Linus concerning the works. I have chosen three pieces; on two
of them he added additional comments in conversation; I have not
revised my notes either.
Crop Circle at Crazy Horse Crossing (2006)
"I tried to talk my nephew into making a crop circle down the hill
He wouldn't go for it. I heard they were made with one burst of
energy. They start as circles way up in the sky, like music unknown
to us. Also heard that from a little bird with no name. Been to the
reservation with bird with no name."3
Linus indicated that the rabbit with the blue and white stripes gets
its decoration from a painted person in Blade Runner; he/she and the
other rabbit contemplate the "altar" built in the middle of the crop
circle. "Most horizons, everything all in one.
The family part of the Rez was named Crazy Horse Crossing by my
cousins; where my grandmother's house used to be. By Rabbit Hill."2
My personal references were: "the crop circle as unusual, magical,
possibly made by aliens or 'gods'," and a "Mayan feeling, because
no-one seems to really know where they came from or where they went,
but their structures were appropriated by other indigenous
civilisations only to end with their destructive rape and almost
annihilation by the Spaniards and others, all Christians carrying
more sophisticated weapons and lethal diseases."
"Gorgeous, rich blues and greens."
Meeting up with a Spoke (Spook) (2007)
"Prince of Wales Heritage Centre. NW Territories
Walked home to where I was living that time. I thought was a person
until we came right to it. It was a scarecrow. To me it was a
Linus says that titles "sometimes do not have much to do with the
actual paintings"2, though I believe the texts that accompany the
works (many on the back and lost to the viewer) reveal insights into
the interaction between the artist and the observer.
An example of the complexity of the layered perceptions that Linus
Woods' work evokes in his audience is this piece. First of all,
since Linus' writing is sometimes hard to read, this work is mis-titled,
but he does not mind that, according to our previously documented
conversation. Possibly the "misdirection", for him just results in
Looking at my notes, contemplating the painting, "the piece
dissolved from reality into vestiges, and I thought of, at the end,
figures in burkas, forms rushing to the edge and disappearing.
Spoke. Spook. Speak. I thought of all the persons through history
until today caught in a whirlwind erasing identity."
Linus said he just did "what the paint told him to do."2
Flying in (2006)
Linus' text refers to "flying in formation" (or is it
'information'?) "king of the winds blew down a 500 year-old cedar
tree. We're talking about Christopher Columbus era, which stood the
test of time until now. Stanley Park. The inside becomes soft in the
middle due to the warm weather.
2 days before Christmas my uncle saw ducks flying by. The ducks were
supposed to be in the Florida Keys.
It takes a lot for polar bears to drown. They seem adapted to the
vast ocean, but they can't swim forever…ever-changing … and ruled by
ice. Life at the pole."3
My notes and observations on revisiting the show:
"Probably the most abstract, and in terms of colour and composition,
one of the finest works in the exhibition. The rabbit is present,
lower right in NEGATIVE space.
An incredibly powerful image of conflict and destruction; can't say
why but it reminds me of Goya's etching The Sleep of Reason Produces
Perception and the Fundamentally Spiritual:
Perception is inherent in the above comparative exercise. What is
interesting is that, despite the differences of approach, many
similar feelings come through. But Linus is also referencing
experiences, oral histories, and spiritual journeys, many of which
are reflected directly or symbolically in the works in this show.
"What you see is probably not what we see. What we see is probably
not what you see,"2
Linus says to me, quoting from one of his own texts, (a note to what
in the show is called The Real Rue, but which Woods in his notes
called Real Eve.)3
He actually wrote that down for me again, but I cannot find the
However, in the preface to the book Indian Legends of Canada, Clark
quotes Iroquois chief Elias Johnson concerning the non-aboriginal's
understanding of story telling:
And when you have learned all that language can convey, there are
still a thousand images, suggestions and associations recurring to
the Indian, which can strike no chord in your head. The myriad
voices of nature are dumb to you, but to them they are full of life
and power.5 (pp.xii-xiii)
Nonetheless, let us follow the rabbit.
Linus says he "chose the rabbit because [he] liked the shape of its
But the rabbit is also a "witness."2 Clark recounts a Cree story in
which Wisakedjak gave names to all the animals and birds,
concurrently giving them their protection. "Rabbit can sit as if
frozen, so that he is almost invisible." (p. 12)
The Rabbit is also a Trickster; (Linus says "ikomitomai")2 and Clark
(p.6-7) speaks of the Great Hare as "mischief-maker"; Ryan6 (p.6)
references the hare as trickster, but also adds, by implication,
that [he/she] is a "risk taker, rule breaker, boundary tester, and
Both sources also mention the coyote as Trickster (Ryan p.6 and
From my imaginary 'invisible' rabbit in the early Linus piece,
through the No X Plain Nation and Rabbits on the Rez exhibits,
through Kicked in the Head by a Buffalo, recently shown at the
Thunder Bay Art Gallery to many of the works in this exhibition,
powerful symbolic messages resound.
I first saw Linus Woods' work in the No X Plain Nation show at the
Winnipeg Art Gallery in the summer of 2002.
Guest curator Leanne L'Hirondelle (she was Director of the Urban
Shaman Gallery at the time) wrote:
Linus' oil paintings are based on stories and legends that involve
rabbits. Some of the stories are based on the experiences and
recollection of other individuals; some are legends that have been
passed down through oral history. Oral tradition has always been an
important aspect of Aboriginal culture. It is through stories that
history, morality, and culture are passed from generation to
Culture thrives through the sharing of oral histories and
The titles of works in the above show, such as Crossing Long Plain
Reservation, Crop Circle with Visitor Sacred Elk Looking, Crazy
Horse Crossing Long Plain Reservation. (p.18) reveal continuing
connections to the 2007 exhibit at Urban Shaman.
Here, the figure in the large canvas with the Elk Dreamer and Coyote
is standing much as he was five years ago, and he is pictured in a
similar fashion. Now he is more diminutive: the dreams and the
tricks are clearly dominant, and the rabbit is cleverly camouflaged
in the background. Many other images are also retrieved in different
contexts in the Rabbits on the Rez 7 exhibition, also curated by
L'Hirondelle. Rabbit still watches, ear or ears leaning right.
But also, over the last five years, working with The Wah-sa Gallery,
I have been fortunate enough to have a first look at most of Woods'
work, and what I see, in addition, is:
Crop Circles, Elk Dreamers, Coyotes, Crazy Horse Crossing, Horse
Society, Voice in Blood,
Disappearance of Buffalo Road, morning stars, red baby, little fat
angel …and the flat surface of the Long Plain reservation…all
popping up again and again.
Linus tends to work in series; they overlay themselves, as does his
There is a danger in trying to read too much into the work, but, at
the same time the images are so loaded it's hard not to.
When I checked out the above text with Linus, he said that when he
is painting he "could go on forever"; "I have to make myself stop or
it will get too busy."2
The Spiritual and the Subversively Political:
There is a lot of the Trickster in Linus as well. For example, I
asked him who wrote the "blurb" on his web site, and he said "My
cousin, Lisa Muswagaon", though we both well knew that it was lifted
word for word from Leanne L'Hirondelle's Rabbits on the Rez
catalogue essay, but not credited. I think maybe he just wanted to
see how gullible I was.
Many things have been gathered from his texts and undocumented
conversations over the years. I know he has travelled widely, and
attended different ceremonies in both the United States and Canada.
He has said to me that he has participated in the Sun Dance ritual
and "has the scars to prove it", but I have not verified that.
Paintings in this exhibition hint broadly at Peyote cult
connections: the mescal buttons in the basket in the large untitled
canvas, the cowboy as shaman aiming his arrow at the cactus in what
is called The Real Rue, insights provided by the peyote web site.
Linus' own texts provide clues as well:
Luca Brasi Sleeps with the Rabbits (2006)
"A message from Sollozo. On Lonely Planet there was a rabbit from
Italy. Seemed like the ears were a little bit longer.
Seen a big blue light at night. It lit up everything. It didn't go
down; it just went around Lukachuka mountain real fast. Lukachuka,
The place is loosely called the "Four Corners", and Leonard quotes
Childs saying "time is very thin in this landscape."10 Fuelled by
mescaline, in an area resonant with aboriginal history, it is not
hard to imagine the vision described above. Further, in Jane Ash Poitras'
Peyote Humour quoted in Ryan6 (p.106) it makes sense that the
artist's opened mind trips to The Godfather.
Similarly, Surfing Apache Gansa (should be Gans)
"Rick Griffin used to put Apache gans on surf boards. I thought that
was cool. At the Sundance I met the ex-manager of the Grateful Dead.
He used to know Rick Griffin. Jook Savage the surfing Apache."2
Richard Griffin (1944-91) was an American artist and a leading
designer of psychedelic posters in the 60s and also a surfer. In
L.A., he met the group Jook Savages. He also participated in the
Watts Acid Test with Ken Kesey. The Gans website gave me a new
perspective. Combined with the comment, "Most horizons everything
all in one" mentioned in connection with the Crop Circle painting
(above), I now see how Linus overlays the gans slatted masks over
the Long Plain landscape to make a figure/ground shift.
Tom Hill in his essay in The Image Makers reminds us of the Indian
act of 1874, which, in an effort to promote assimilation, prohibited
the potlatch; in 1926-27, an amendment outlawed the Sundance. Hill
goes on to attest that these measures "had a profound effect on the
artistic expression of Indian artists. In most cases the artists'
creations were an integral part of such forbidden ceremonies."9 (p.
Through his personal experiences, and slyly, through his art, Linus
Woods re-appropriates the rituals and traditions that were denied
and almost lost to his people.
Closing the Circle:
What is the point?
Linus Woods' paintings in this exhibition are a coherent part of his
whole body of work, referencing and continuing the exploration of
his personal Aboriginal roots. With their seductive appeal through
colour, painterly texture, enigmatic subjects; through titles,
texts, and forms Woods' images invite speculation, reflection, and
connections from his audience of whatever background.
However, through his symbols and oblique, sly, often humorous/ironic
he reclaims rituals, celebrates his rez, and undermines historical
and art-historical perspectives and assumptions.
This essay has tried to reflect how Linus' approach has affected my
more usual linear style.
In the future, I think that following the rabbit just might be a
I do hope, however, that in my next incarnation, I am not a
1. Conversation with Linus Woods at The Wah-sa
Gallery, Winnipeg MB,
March 8, 2007, concerning the 1992 untitled mixed media canvas
(40 cm x 55 cm; 16 inches x 22 inches). Collection: The Wah-sa
Photograph: Gary Scherbain. Used by permission of the artist.
2. Conversation with Linus Woods at The Wah-sa
Gallery, Winnipeg MB, March 8, 2007.
3. Hand-written texts by Linus Woods relating to
works in the Urban Shaman show, given to author, Marlene Milne,
to copy March 6, 2007.
4. Light, Whitney. "In Plain View". Uniter March
03, 2003, p.16.
5. Clark, Ella Elizabeth. Indian Legends of
Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1992.
6. Ryan, Allan J. The Trickster Shift.
Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999.
7. L'Hirondelle, Leanne. Rabbits on the Rez
Catalogue. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Hull, Quebec.
(Note: the show ran from November 7, 2002 to January 28, 2003.
8. L'Hirondelle, Leanne. No X Plain Nation
Catalogue. The Winnipeg Art Gallery: Winnipeg, Manitoba. 2002.
9. McLuhan, Elizabeth and Tom Hill. Norval
Morrisseau and the Emergence of The Image Makers. The Art
Gallery of Ontario, 1984.
10. Leonard, John. Review of Craig Childs House
of Rain in Harpers, March, 2007, p. 81
Helpful websites in preparing this paper:
Re: "Crazy Dog" http://www.manataka.org/page256.htm
Text credit: Plume, Eagle.
Additional credits to elders Phillip Wells and Chief Coward of
the Blackfeet [sic] people.
Re: "Gans" http://www.magick7.com/ghosts/Gans.htm
Re: "Ghost Dance" http://njnj.essortment.com/nativeamerican_rmqk.htm
Text credit: Williams, Bobbi Jo Innamorato. Pagewise, 2002.
Re: "Kachinas" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kachina
Re: "Kiva" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiva
Text credit: Cordell, Linda S. Ancient Pueblo Peoples.
Washington: Montreal and Smithsonian Institution, 1994.
Re: "Peyote" http://peyote.org
Text credit: Schultes, Richard Evans and Albert Hoffman.
Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Re: "Poitras" http://www.bearclawgallery.com/Paintings.aspx?Artist