Brilliant red and bold black lines curve, loop, and repeat in careful symmetry to represent a grizzly bear in this dynamic screenprint by renowned modern Indigenous artist Bill Reid. Known for combining classic Haida formline style with western techniques and influences, Bill Reid’s artwork depicts animal figures that breathe with the subtle qualities of life. The Haida Grizzly Bear, Hoiji, is a prevalent figure in the First Nations of the Northwest Coast. This work is a part of Reid’s lifetime spent in historical renewal of the formline style of traditional Haida art, which provides a complex and distinctive visual vocabulary of ovoid and u-form shapes.
|Provenance||The Artist; Mark Loria Gallery, Victoria, Canada.|
Considered one of the best-known Canadian Northwest Coast indigenous artists of the 20th century, Bill Reid’s art infuses the Haida traditions of his maternal ancestors with his own modernist aesthetic. His works belie a striking precision and balance that captures the broader public’s imagination. Working in many mediums, Reid was a master goldsmith, sculptor and writer engaged in introducing the arts of Northwest Coast First Peoples to the non-indigenous world.
The unanticipated and remarkable resurgence of traditional Northwest coast art during the second half of the twentieth century owes much to Bill Reid. Traditional Haida art is well-known for stylistic conventions that provide a complex and distinctive visual vocabulary of ovoid and u-form shapes, known as formline style. The formline style is a highly disciplined mode of graphic representation that eliminates all unnecessary details. Evoking the culture and religious beliefs of Northwest Coast First Peoples, formline compositions portray the fundamental cosmological principles of space, line, and balance. From metalwork, totem poles, and large-scale sculptures to modern screen prints, Bill Reid’s work makes it clear that traditional Indigenous techniques are not just craft, but rather, fine art.
Reid was born in 1920 in Victoria, BC to a Haida mother and an American father with Scottish German roots, and only began exploring his Haida roots at the age of 23, when he discovered his mother’s secret ancestry. This journey of discovery lasted a lifetime and shaped Reid’s artistic career. In the 1950s, when Reid first began to study the art of his ancestors, most artists as well as First Nations chiefs and elders, falsely assumed that traditional pre-contact ways of life and art had vanished forever under the impact of colonialism..
Bill Reid’s works reinvigorated the rich history of Haida peoples and culture through works that portray a dazzling balance between traditional and modern techniques. After a successful early career as a professional radio announced and maker of modern jewelry, Reid became increasingly committed to recovering the carving styles of the Haida from books. He studied museum artifacts and also the jewelry and argillite carvings made by his great-uncle Charles Edenshaw, which were still in the possession of his family. Starting with the miniature scale of jewelry and bentwood boxes exquisitely fashioned in gold and silver, his study soon led to the creation of full-scale monumental sculptures. Reid earned commissions for public buildings and he created totem poles, canoes, and other traditional carvings for community use that rivaled the quality of 19th century masterpieces. His great work The Raven and the First Men (1983) evidences the brilliant success of his project of modernization and renewal.
Reid received many honours in his life, including honorary degrees from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the University of Victoria, the University of Western Ontario, York University, and Trent University. He received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Indspire Awards, for Lifetime Achievement in 1994, and was made a member of the Order of British Columbia and an Officer of France’s Order of Arts and Letters. He was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1994, Bill Reid received the prestigious Order of Canada from the Canadian Government.
His works are held in public and private collections, in Canada and internationally, including the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, and the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology.