Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun is a contemporary Canadian artist who cannot be missed. Coast Salish and Okanagan by descent, he is a passionate advocate for indigenous issues in the country. Influential as both artist and activist, Yuxweluptun focusses on Canada’s ecology, the deconstruction of the environment and the injustices that have had a historic legacy throughout Canada. His paintings are a visual protest and a rejection of status quo as his art reveals his own commentary for social change. Particular subjects include oil spills, clearcuts, declining fish stocks, land claims, systemic racism, the legacies of colonialism and residential schools, large corporations and the growing divide between the rich and the poor.
Yuxweluptun’s unique style seamlessly and ingeniously blends the iconography of the cultures of the First Nations (masks, ovoids) with a kind of modern aesthetic that escapes categorisation. It brings together Coast Salish cosmology, formal design elements of the Northwest Coast and the Western landscape tradition. Yuxweluptun prefers to call his approach “visionism”.
“The symbolic forms are interchangeable,” he writes, “based on my needs when I make a painting. The symbolism transforms into landscape and other forms to create a vision.” His paintings often get fierce and provocative as they explore the encroachments on Native Indian space by the European settler. But they also contain an unforgettable humour in their anger. For example, take this—“Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in Sky”.
“Yuxweluptun” is Salish for “man of many masks”, a name given to the artist during his initiation into the Sxwaixwe Society at the age of fourteen. Yuxweluptun’s political roots can be traced back to childhood. His father was founder of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and Vice President of the North American Native Brotherhood. His mother was Executive Director of the Indian Homemakers Association of British Columbia. With his parents as role models, Yuxweluptun was involved in Native politicisation, attending meetings, demonstrations and mailing out copies of The Native Voice, the province’s first Native newspaper.
Born in 1957 in Kamloops, BC, the artist now lives in Vancouver. His work has been included in numerous international exhibitions, such as SITEines.2018: Casa Tomada, at the Site Santa Fe Biennial in New Mexico (2018); Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950 to Now, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas ( 2018); Time Immemorial (You’re Just Mad Because We Got Here First) at the Canadian High Commission in London, UK (2017); Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2017); Unceded Territories, a retrospective exhibition at at the Museum of Anthropology, UBC (2016); and has recently been honoured on the occasion of receiving his honorary doctorate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design (2019).
Links: Website (lawrencepaulyuxweluptun.com)