BIRD

INUIT: PITSEOLAK NIVIAQSI

STONE

ARTIST
BIOGRAPHY

A master carver and mentor to the younger generation of carvers, Pitseolak Niviaqsi was born in 1947 on the Kangiaak reserve near Cape Dorset, the son of the great sculptor and graphic artist Niviaksiak and the graphic artist Kunu - both of whom contributed to the early Cape Dorset print movements.
 
He is a versatile artist and printer who has become known for his prints - especially his lithographic techniques - as well as his sculptures. Pitseolak firstly trained as a printmaker in the 1970’s, later discovering his calling of sculpture where he is known for his elegant versatility and by his use of positive and negative space which gives his work a lightness and fluidity.

Pitseolak’s sculpture is often relatively large in size, highly polished and displays flowing forms and exquisite detail. His subject matter ranges from fanciful birds to sensitive portrayals of a mother with her children (often depicting his wife and children) and depictions of sea goddesses and mythical creatures.
 
Pitseolak works in serpentine stone which the artists of Cape Dorset quarry themselves – a no easy task. The mine sites are not located in town, but several days trip by boat. Only accessible during the short summer months, the stone is hand cut from the sites then hauled out, piece by piece. Dynamite cannot be used because it fractures the stone.

Although several artists get together to mine stone, it is still arduous physical labor. It takes several days at the mine site before they have loaded enough stone to head back to town. There is a very short time period when the mine site is accessible and not completely covered by snow - once winter sets in, the ground is completely frozen for the next 8 to 10 months. He carves outside during the summer months and only uses basic tools – hammers chisels and files to work the stone.

Birds were important figures in traditional mythology; for example, Raven was thought to have created all land mammals, including humans, in the western Arctic. They are also appealing subjects for art because of their perceived personalities and their ability to gracefully fly.

With his birds, Pitseolak achieves graceful interpretations of form and shape, with elegant lines and flowing movement in his pieces. His often fanciful birds are captured with sensuous, rounded curves and are very tactile, inviting the viewer to touch. Pitseolak stopped carving briefly in 1991 to build his own house, returned to his art, and has continued to develop as a versatile, prolific and talented artist. He lives in Cape Dorset with his wife and children.

His pieces have been shown in many galleries and as part of numerous exhibits throughout Canada, the United-States and Europe. His work is housed in National and International collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec and the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, British Columbia.