I really enjoyed wandering around Billy Gauthier's exhibition of carvings, "Beyond Bones", this summer at The Rooms in St John's. Billy Gauthier was born in Happy Valley - Goose Bay, Labrador, in 1978. He has Inuit and Metis ancestry and started carving in 1996 after visiting his sculptor cousin, John Terriak, who gave him some stone and some tools to try out. After successfully selling his second piece of carving, Billy decided to carve full time. Billy creates intricately detailed carvings and uses natural materials such as stone, bone, antler, ivory, sinew, and baleen (whalebone), and his work often depicts traditional Inuit practices and spirituality.
|Narwhal Hunt - Billy Gauthier ... anhydrite, serpentine, whalebone, labradorite, antler (caribou), antler (moose)|
Here's what Billy Gauthier has to say about Narwhal Hunt:
“This huge sculpture was a piece that I have worked on for many years to bring to this conclusion. It was a piece that I kept on putting aside because I was not sure how to finish it. The sculpture inclusion in the exhibition became the incentive to complete it. Carving the base took a long time and designing the kayaks to balance on the waves required many drawings in the planning stages. Initially, I had intended to have only one kayaker but then to my eye it somehow did not seem balanced and needed a second kayaker. This of course meant more time was required and I had to work long hours to complete this piece in time. There is a lot of detailing in the figures with even their finger nails carved. I have always enjoyed carving faces and hands. I braided all the sinew which was a long tedious job. I am very happy with the result as it captures the power and the drama of the hunt in an exaggerated form. The hunters were finished in pieces of Newfoundland anhydrite gifted to me by (sculptor) Michael Massie when he came to visit my studio this summer.”
Billy's carvings often address problems experienced by the Northern people in their every day lives as the Inuit communities adjust to life in the modern world, such as food insecurity, substance abuse, impacts of environmental degradation and loss of tradition.
|Northern Fridgidaire Diet - Billy Gauthier ... serpentine, antler (moose and caribou), horn (muskox), slate base|
Billy's comments on Northern Fridgidaire Diet:
"In the past we lived a traditional life of fishing and hunting and only eating wild “country foods.” Now that has all changed as we tend to buy and eat more groceries imported from the south in our northern stores. These junk foods often include high sugar content drinks, canned and processed packaged foods that are low in nutritional value and often high in saturated fats which have all contributed to our unhealthy diet.
This sculpture has an Inuk wrestling with all those demons that are in his fridge. You will see a milk carton, a loaf of bread, Reese’s peanut butter cups and cans of Pepsi — but I have also added a bottle of liquor and cigarettes that have created additional health problems in the north.
We are seeing an increase in diabetes and lactose intolerance due to this poor diet, lack of exercise and decline in consuming “country foods.” Obesity in Nunavut is 88% more than the national average in the rest of Canada over the last ten years. There are also the associated social problems created with addictions to drugs and alcohol. It is a fact that we have a genetic disadvantage to alcohol and it seems everyone in the north smokes. Canadian Government Health statistics state that 58% of Inuit smoke cigarettes with 46% starting to smoke at the age of 14 or younger. The Inuit never had a traditional ceremonial use of tobacco as an excuse like many other aboriginal peoples in the south.
This is a subject that I have always wanted to carve as “food for thought.” These health problems have always worried me and this was an ideal opportunity to voice my concerns. Even though I go fishing and hunting ptarmigan, rabbits, caribou and seal — I still go to the shops and buy too much junk food.
I admit I am guilty of many of these problems."
|Northern Voices (Owl/Human Transformation) - Billy Gauthier ... serpentine, anhydrite, grouse feathers, ptarmigan feathers|
"In Inuit culture it is believed that humans and animals both possess souls, which is why all animals should be treated with equal respect. When viewing this piece you will notice both human and owl forms within the mask, in the center of each eye you’ll find a face, in one an owl and the other a human. This was made to show the equality of the two life forms rather than their obvious differences. The mask appears to be speaking, both through the owl’s beak and through a human face that has been carved at the tip of the tongue; this is to symbolize the equal importance of the cry of man and animal. In this day and age we often take note of the problems we face as humans, and all too often the voices of other forms of life go unheard. We as people are not the only ones inhabiting this earth so we need to listen to and respect all voices."
I was fascinated by Billy's intricate carvings and I spent a lot of time just looking and reading the information about him. At his very first solo exhibition a few years ago, he sold all 25 carvings on display in just 18 minutes.... amazing! You rock, Billy!