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Issue # 5

Issue # 5

Article Listing

Flatter the Land, Bigger the Ruckus
by Urban Shaman Gallery

Negotiating Stereotypes, Hybridity, and Community – The Work of KC Adams
by Cathy Mattes

Follow the Bunny
A responsive essay by Marlene Milne to:
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
by Marlene Milne

Nêhiyawin (Cree Worldview)
by Daina Warren

Follow the Bunny A responsive essay by Marlene Milne to: Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Follow the Bunny A responsive essay by Marlene Milne to: Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
 

by Marlene Milne



Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Linus Woods
Urban Shaman Gallery
Winnipeg, Manitoba
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 from here.
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 spook."3

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 more layers.

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 Monsters."

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 paper.
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 ears."2
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 creator transformer."
Both sources also mention the coyote as Trickster (Ryan p.6 and Clark p.16).
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 generation.
Culture thrives through the sharing of oral histories and storytelling.8 (p.13)

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 personal experience.
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.
Oct 30/98
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, Arizona."2
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. 13)

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 juxtapositions,
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 good idea.
I do hope, however, that in my next incarnation, I am not a greyhound.
 


  • Endnotes

    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 Gallery.
    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. Unpaged, 2000.
    (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 ID=19

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