B.C. Artist Brings Car-part Exhibit to Edmonton


Edmonton Journal

Visual Arts

November 26, 2012

Yahgulanaas Makes Art from Sunroof Panels

Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas's Solo Three

Where: Douglas Udell Gallery, 10332 124th St.

When: Saturday, Nov. 24 (official opening 2-4 p.m.) to Dec. 8

EDMONTON - Some master stone and chisel, others conquer pigment and brush. In his copper-glowing artworks, Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas is the planet's foremost expert on making art from the metal sunroof panels of 1992 Volvos. As glib as that description sounds, his "Haida Manga guy" work not only glows with beauty, but actually follows a trail of discussable substance going back to his days as a B.C. activist, author and cartoonist for underground political magazines.

But why, of all things, car parts, which he includes in his smaller works, like those up at Douglas Udell Gallery starting Saturday, to his larger public commissions in Vancouver? From a proven socially conscious artist, the answer's a surprise: "What draws me to cars in the first place is the aesthetics, the engineering. It might be about the best we're doing in this cultural moment as a universal form of expression.

B.C. artist Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas's 'Solo Three' show opens Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012 at Douglas Udell Gallery.

B.C. artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas's Solo Three show opens Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012 at Douglas Udell Gallery.

"I think I cleared the market out of 1992 Volvo sunroofs in B.C.," he laughs. "The esthetics, the proportion of the metal is beautiful. '92 was the last year they used metal, and then they started doing glass. I've got about 15. These Volvoxi as I call them, the plural of Volvox, is going to be all I do with this series. That's it."

Gilded in copper with the help of an assistant, Yahgulanaas next paints on his hybrid curves and ovoids, which he takes from his cartooning, Haida blood and training, as well as the tutelage of Cantonese master Cai Ben Kwan, who "taught me how to dance with a brush."

Talk to the 1954-born artist and you understand that Yahgulanaas's perspective crosses traditionalist picket lines. The most important words in his artist statement are: "I refuse esoterica and sentimentality not because they are false but because they have too long obscured our vision."

Put another way, Yahgulanaas explains tangentially, "there was the colonial era and now we're in the post-colonial. And there's still a lot of anger, like we're still stuck in it. The colonial anger is still the reference point. But what happens if the reference point becomes, ‘What makes Fish and Michael laugh?' Whoever we are, wherever we're from. What is it that we share together? Do we like to tell fart jokes?"

Framing his work in the contemporary, Yahgulanaas has had incredible success in an art career that really only launched in the last decade, his first major work being an intervention in the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, where he repurposed renovation leftovers into sculpture. Since then, he's had work in the National Art Centre, including a converted Pontiac Firefly since bought by the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. "We partied inside the car, right in the foyer of the National gallery," he notes happily. While the gallery was packed with sophisticates holding wine glasses, "me and a couple other West Coast guys slipped inside and had a beer and a real good time.

"I walked into this thing pretty green — a middle-aged guy leaving a career of community governance up in the Queen Charlotte Islands."

Two of his works also stand permanently in Vancouver — a Volvo abstracted into a seven-metre hummingbird, and the city's largest and heaviest piece, the 39-metre, bridge-spanning Abundance Fenced, a loaded name in rich-poor Vancouver, which Yahgulanaas notes is about marine resources.

These Haida Manga pieces on metal Volvo sunroofs are part of the limited Volvox series by B.C. artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.

These Haida Manga pieces on metal Volvo sunroofs are part of the limited Volvox series by B.C. artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. It's part of his Solo Three show opening Saturday, Nov. 24, at Douglas Udell Gallery, running through Dec. 8, 2012.

His ongoing series, Coppers from the Hood, also uses car parts and has appeared around the world, including a commission in the British Museum. "They got hold of me and asked me to produce a piece for their North American collection. There was obviously ethnic context, but they wanted it as contemporary, not as indigenous. The process is quite lengthy because it involves curators and budget committees and who else knows, someone who serves them tea at four."

Following the British slowdown, Yahgulanaas worried they couldn't afford his work. "I found out their annual budget for new acquisitions was $70,000. The hoods retail for $18,000 and I thought they'd be fools to spend almost a third of their budget on it."

He wrote the museum, eager to have his piece included, offering a discount. He laughs: "I could almost hear the stiff-upper-British lip saying that wasn't necessary. They were going to pay the full price."

Solo Three at Udell is Yahgulanaas's first such show in Edmonton, and features his auto conversions, paintings on chemically-altered paper and even one of his comic books.

But if you happen to be driving a Volvo with a sunroof to the show, don't be surprised if he pays special attention. To Yahgulanaas, your car is a resource.

…And Thanks for All the Fish

Artwork …And Thanks for All the Fish from the Haida Manga guy, B.C. artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.
His Solo Three show opens Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012 at Douglas Udell Gallery.