Inuksuk journey

This piece is about finding myself in a land that doesn’t have any maps.

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There is a map on the left-hand side. It goes from being highly populated at the bottom to being barely populated at the top. There are a lot of place names for cities and villages on the bottom part of the map. But when you go further north, the place names get fewer and farther between, and they get different. The place names further north are the place names from the people who live there, and they are in Inuit.

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They are harder for us to pronounce. Their alphabet looks entirely different from ours. It is full of circles and triangles. The Inuit did not have a written language for many years. The way that they explained to each other how to get from one area to another was with these huge stone sculptures, called inuksuit (plural of inuksuk). They aren’t art sculptures, they are assemblages of stones that are found in that place. The inuksuit are the only way to navigate in a land that is filled with snow and ice. They didn’t have cities and roads like we do, so they couldn’t say “Go 3 miles and then turn left onto Main Street.” There was no Main Street. There were no streets. It is a land of ice and snow.

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It is really rude that this land is called Newfoundland. It isn’t newly found. It never was lost. The people who lived there had found it. To say that it was found by new settlers means that no one was there at the time it was “found”. To call it Newfoundland is insulting to the people who were living there. It is to say that they are not people and that they do not own this land.

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I have used tissue paper to cover up some of the names and settlements of the people who moved in after the Inuit. I have done this to try and reclaim the land. I have also done this because I don’t want to look at those areas. These are scars upon the land. In a way, by putting tissue paper I am putting up a drift of snow. I am reclaiming that area. I am saying that area should not be in the possession of the white people. It should be in possession of the people who lived there before, and who still live there.

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The inuksuk that I have used is a direction finding one. All inuksuit are different. One may indicate where is a good place to hunt, another where is a good place to find caribou or yet another that is a dangerous area.

 
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This particular one shows you where to go. You look through the big inuksuk towards the little inuksuk. It points the way. When the little one is in the center of your view, you know that is the direction to go. You are pointed in the right direction.

But think about the people who were there before you. How did they figure out that was a safe way to go? It was very kind of them to leave the stones for you to tell you that this was the best travel route. But think about it. In order to do that, they had to come back safely. They went to the trouble of figuring out a safe passage to start off with and then they came back to put up a marker.

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It reminds me of a sponsor in AA. They have gone through the difficulty of becoming sober and then they committed to helping you find your way too. It is the same as in Buddhism. Someone who is enlightened, a bodhisattva, renounces going to Nirvana for the sake of everyone else. Instead of leaving this plane of existence, they stay so that they can help others find their way. They show you where it is safe and where it is dangerous, just like these rocks do.

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I like this particular inuksuk not only because it indicates direction but also because it looks like a torii gate. They are part of the Shinto religion in Japan. They are not gates to keep people out. Rather, they are an indicator that you have stepped from the secular into the sacred. They let you know that you are on holy ground.

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This is made with canvas, acrylic paint, a map of Newfoundland, two Canadian stamps, watercolor pencil on water color paper, tissue paper, and matte medium.

Here is a behind-the-scenes illustration of how I created the main Inuksuk.  (which is composed of two Inuksuit)

Here is the reference picture from a book from the library.

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Here is my solution to how to “paint” it.  I drew the stones onto heavy watercolor paper, using watercolor pencils.  Once I was happy with them, I cut them out and glued them together on the canvas.  I essentially created my own stones and stacked them. This meant that I could edit an area without affecting the entire piece.

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Collage, not painting

          I finally figured something out.  I don’t have to paint fine details.  I can do collage.  I can draw what I want separately, using watercolor pencils on watercolor paper.  Then I cut it out and glue it to the painting.  This is such a relief.

          One of my problems is that my ideas far outstretch my abilities.  I’m not very good at painting yet.  I’m trying, but it is going to take a while.  Meanwhile all these ideas keep coming that would work best using painting.

          I have taken only one art class, and that was in high school.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I feel like a feral child, wanting to communicate but I don’t have a language.  So I’m making it up as I go.

          One of my fears with painting is there is no “undo” button.  If I make a mistake, it is hard to fix.  It isn’t like working digitally.  Plus, it doesn’t work well with my schedule.  If I only have 20 minutes to work on art, there isn’t really enough time to paint and clean up.

          I have a space painting I was working on.  I’d created the black background earlier.  Just remembering to paint the background first was a big deal.  I thought I was going to paint planets and stars on it.  In the meantime, I started sorting stamps and fortune cookie messages, and came across an old packet of just space stamps.  They are pretty awesome, and I thought I should use them here.  But since they are so rare and I’m so unsure of my abilities, I went ahead and color copied them.

          Yes, I wrote a whole blog post about not doing that.  Yes, I did it.  Whatever makes the art happen counts.  I used funny scrap-booking scissors to cut the edges.  It is more interesting than a plain square cut, and it sort-of gives the impression that it is a stamp.  I looked for scrap-booking scissors that cut like stamp edges, but I didn’t find them.  I had these, and I used them.

          I really liked one stamp of a lady astronaut.   I plan on mixing in other stamps and calling this piece something like “Can’t we all get along / In Space” and having Space be the place where women and men are finally equal and respected.

          The stamp is a bit disembodied though.  I didn’t want just her head floating around.  So I wanted to paint a body for her, but again I felt like I would mess it up.   Then I had a flash.  Draw it separately using watercolor pencils and cut it out.   I put the stamp on the paper for scale and drew around it.  It worked great.

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I’ve been using watercolor pencils for a year now, so I’m comfortable with them.  I pulled out an older piece that I don’t really like and tested the fixatives on it.   I used decoupage glue on one section, and matte medium on another.  From that I learned what will work best and how to apply it.  I also used some of the matte medium on a color copied stamp to see if it would affect it.  I know it works great on real stamps, but this is different.  So I put it together and I can’t be more pleased.

          I don’t really know why I didn’t think of this sooner.  Matisse did something like this in his later years.  He cut out construction paper and glued it together.  Eric Carle does this – he paints big pieces of paper and cuts them out.  This isn’t quite the same, but in a way it is.

          I am also working on a painting with inuksuit – the Inuit rock sculptures.   They aren’t just sculptures – they provide direction and tell something about the area.  One will indicate a good place to hunt.  One will indicate a beautiful thing to look at in the distance.  One will mark an initiation area.  Each different shape has meaning, and is often the only way to navigate in a snowy land.

          Here is a picture of one that indicates a direction to travel. It reminds me of a Japanese torii gate.

 

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I was going to draw the whole thing with this new technique and then I had another idea. Draw the stones separately, and assemble them.

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Sure, I’ll work on getting better at painting using brushes. That is the only way to get in any detail. But in the meantime, I’m glad I’ve discovered this.