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Carl Beam 1943-2005 Born West Bay (M'Chigeeng), Manitoulin Island

Carl Beam (1943-2005) Sitting Bull and Whale 1990, etching on Arches paper. Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

Carl Beam: The Columbus Suite

EXHIBITION OVERVIEW

The Columbus Suite, 1990, distills a larger body of work created in advance of the quincentenary of the most celebrated and reviled of European landfalls in the Americas. Its twelve monumental etchings were produced in Beam’s own studio and display bravura technique. It begins with New World, which depicts a turtle (the totem for the North American continent), the stenciled title and the veil of drips punching home the polemical urgency of what follows. Though the appropriated photo-reproductions are formally arranged throughout, this always occurs with the dignity of the images intact. They are invariably upright; never gratuitously degraded, distorted or defaced. The personages, among history’s most epically martyred, persecuted and exiled – Jesus Christ, Louis Riel, Sitting Bull, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King and John Kennedy – attain revivification through repetition and recurrence, cast together in a colossal, episodic tragedy: the unresolved cultural struggles pertaining to race. Beam achieves this with a mix of solemnity – the double-image of a hooded Apache Gaan dancer above a Pietá scene in The Unexplained or the indelible image of Lincoln and Ravens – and humour – the spindly, naked ethnologist atop a sawhorse in The Proper Way to Ride a Horse or Self-Portrait as John Wayne, Probably. The latter features four pictures of the artist at various stages of his life, beginning with a proud, pistol-packing, would-be cowboy who embodies Beam’s basic lifelong dilemma, the recuperation of native knowledge and identity from the insidiously alluring, ingrained mythologies of the conquerors.


ABOUT THE ARTIST

On July 30 Ojibwe artist Carl Beam died at his home and birthplace of M’Chigeeng on Manitoulin Island. Among the rapidly growing number of important First Nations artists in Canada, Beam was a strong, independent character and by that virtue he became a leader. His 1985 painting, The North American Iceberg (titled in ironic opposition to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s landmark exhibition of the same year, The European Iceberg) was the first work by an artist of native ancestry purchased by the National Gallery of Canada as contemporary art. He mainly eschewed traditional style and imagery and helped himself to the world through its overflowing inventory of photo-documents, inserting the personal and the symbolic alongside the iconic in remarkably lucid and powerful combinations that partially disguised the artist’s own motives and intentions to force the viewer’s active involvement in their interpretation.


LIST OF WORKS

Carl Beam (1943- 2005)

Various Ways to Travel in North America
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

Self-Portrait as John Wayne, Probably
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

The Proper Way to Ride a Horse
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

Sitting Bull and Whale
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

King and Kennedy
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

Lincoln and Ravens
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

From Calvary to Cavalry
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

The Unexplained
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

Semiotic Converts
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

Columbus and Bees
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

New World
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

 

Sitting Bull and Einstein
1990, etching on Arches paper
Purchased with funds donated by AGO Members, 1991

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