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Arts in Review

Storyteller beautifully explores coastal First Nations culture

I was first introduced to the enigmatic art of Roy Henry Vickers at the Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino. The prints and carving affected me deeply.

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By Nadine Moedt (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 29, 2014

Vickers’ new collection of art invites his audience to “Stop, look and listen to the heartbeat of life.” (Image: heartstringsdecor.com)

Vickers’ new collection of art invites his audience to “Stop, look and listen to the heartbeat of life.” (Image: heartstringsdecor.com)

I was first introduced to the enigmatic art of Roy Henry Vickers at the Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino. The prints and carving affected me deeply. They spoke with urgency about the cultural genocide experienced by Aboriginal peoples of the Northwest Coast, about the quiet erosion of the interconnectedness of people and land, about families trapped in cycles of abuse. Yet while Vickers touches on these issues with emotion, his art is filled with hope, and with stories of resilience. He draws on a blend of modern European realism and the clean lines and bold colours of traditional Northwest Coast art to tell a story of reclamation of identity. 

Vickers’ new collection of prints, entitled Storyteller, commemorates his 40th year as a painter, carver, author, and speaker. Each print is accompanied by Vickers’ notes on the piece’s conception, process, and a discussion of significance within the Northwest Coast culture.

Vickers is inspired by a medley of heritages: Tsimshian, Haida, Heiltsuk, and British. Through his prints we are given a unique insight into a vibrant culture. His art spans across coastal nations, drawing insight from stories told since time immemorial. “The Trickster” depicts an opaque raven; Vickers writes that it is told that the Raven was born white, but one day snuck into the smoke hole of a chief’s house and ate so much salmon that it couldn’t squeeze back through, and the smoke blacked its white feathers.

Time isn’t linear in Storyteller; the past and present find themselves one and the same. “The Matriarch” honours the matriarchal tradition of the Northwest Coast society, and depicts their vital role as carriers of story and strength in modern communities. Scenes of West Coast beauty are haunted by shadows of translucent traditional symbolism.

Throughout Storyteller we see a strong spiritual connection with coastal wilds and a call-to-arms in its defense. “Baby Orca” takes a passionate political stance against the introduction of oil tankers to BC’s waters, and reminds us of our responsibility as inhabitants of the land.

“I am reminded of the fear I carry for the generations to come,” writes Vickers. “Stop, look and listen to the heartbeat of life.”

Storyteller invites its audience toward a deeper understanding of not only the artist and art, but also of the stories and culture of the Pacific Northwest peoples.

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