‘Positioning the Missionary’ with artist Chris Arnett

“He admits her art technique is getting better but he is perturbed by the fact that he no longer is painting in the traditional native style that first got him interested in doing this kind of art.”

May 1, 2015

In the last few years, I have really been enjoying sketching aspects of the variety of places I have been visiting and the animals that with whom I keep company when housesitting. Lately, I have been painting many of these sketches with acrylics. I have the pleasure of viewing many of pencil drawings that I have not taken a look at for awhile and recalling beautiful natural settings and wonderful little creatures that I have spent quality time with. Then, painting them takes things to another pleasurable level. Creativity is something none of us should ever do without.

Sometimes I see how childlike or rudimentary my artistic skills are but that is what endears me to them. I see my character and the character of what I have drawn and painting presenting itself to me. It makes me love who I am and the my union with the world around me.

My artistic abilities might progress, especially if I take some art courses but I hesitate to go there. I feel I could lose something very lovable about my visual creations as they are right now.

The idea of folk art, it seems to me, is like this. It is what flows out of the people who are close to the land and the basics of life.

In the following article, I interviewed Chris Arnett fifteen years ago. He seemed to be grappling with the same kind of thing that I have been writing about in this introduction. Here is the piece:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

August 2, 2000

‘Positioning the Missionary’ with artist Chris Arnett

by Tanya Lester

Chris Arnett is one of those Salt Spring people who does many things and does them with a provocative flare.

He is an award-winning author, an historian with a background in archaeology and First Nations as well as a folk artist.

It was surprising to find out recently that the creator of the three-dimensional folk art found at the Saturday market and ArtCraft is also a very expressive painter on canvas with acrylics as his medium.

The discovery was made while ordering a latte at the Salt Spring Roasting Company in Ganges. The brilliantly-coloured pictures drew my attention.

Whose were they?

Once I found out they were Arnett’s I saw his historical background influencing this two-dimensional works. It looks like it would fit nicely as an artistic style popular a century or two ago.

Meeting with Arnett confirmed what I sensed. He explained that the work, which spans a 15-year period, was inspired by a First Nations artist and historian named August Jack.

Arnett discovered this man’s work while doing historical research. Apparently, the aboriginal historian created his art in the 1920s in Vancouver to educate a non-native historian about his native background.

Arnett, who has Maori status as a Kai Tahu on his father’s side, is always drawn to aboriginal traditions.

As a fourth-generation Vancouverite, he also is fascinated with the buildings and land previously occupied by aboriginal people there and in other West Coast locations.

Aboriginal artists never created their pieces solely for art’s sake, said Arnett. They were art historians who created art to document a place or situation.

“Through art one was provoked into learning more about the place ,” Arnett said.

Through old photographs and descriptions, Arnett has recreated his version of the way things were and  even still are. One of his pieces at the café is a depiction of an aboriginal village that once stood where the Vancouver planetarium sits.

One can see elements of European influence slipping in to many of his paintings.

The church on a native reserve is slowly decaying as is the car beside it. What is coming back into its own is the natural setting where native people performed sacred ceremonies, explained Arnett.

Still, the European influence cannot be denied.

In another painting some of the trees, with their amusing-looking eyes, wear top hats. Arnett pointed out that First Nations chiefs began wearing these hats as a status symbol after they observed Hudson’s Bay Company officials wearing them.

In Arnett’s earlier paintings, colourful stripes in pinks, blues and other colours represent shades of sky and water hues without being blended together.

Arnett mentioned that in his most recent paintings he started to blend the natural representations together.

He admits his art technique is getting better but he is perturbed by the fact that he no longer is painting  in the traditional native style that first got  him interested in doing  this kind of  work.

The painting of the Catholic church at Fulford Harbour, with the Fulford Inn, is very appealing to me as an islander.

This week Arnett is  out in the field doing sketches of other B.C. mission churches for future paintings.

It may be the last chance he gets for some time. In September he will  be commuting to  Malaspina University College in Nanaimo to teach First Nations studies.

Arnett quit the academic world several years ago  because, as an art historian, he got interested in actually doing the style of art that he was studying. This fall, he will be going full circle…..

–               –END–

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