Alex Janvier: 'Maybe that's why I was placed on this earth, to shout to the world — This is bullshit!'

13 years ago, the pioneering artist shared a life-changing story on CBC's Artspots. A travelling retrospective of his work arrives at the Beaverbrook Gallery February 15.

13 years ago, the pioneering artist shared a life-changing story on CBC's Artspots

Artspots: Alex Janvier

4 years ago
Duration 0:55
"I didn't ask for it, but it's there." How being put in a residential school made social issues a focal point of Alex Janvier's art. 0:55

From 1997 to 2008, CBC's Artspots profiled more than 300 Canadian artists from across the country. We're sharing re-edited cuts of the vintage videos this winter.

Name: Alex Janvier

Hometown: Cold Lake First Nations, Alta.

Artspots appearance: 2005

13 years ago…

Alex Janvier was already an icon by the time Artspots arrived in his studio.

Born in Northern Alberta in 1935, Janvier is a lifelong artist — one whose canvases and mosaics and murals can be found all over the country, from the floor of Edmonton's Rogers Place to the ceiling of the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

In this clip, the Artspots crew watches him at work on an enormous canvas. Like so much of his art, the piece bursts with rainbow colours — blending his love of Modernist painters (Kandinsky and Klee) with elements of his Dene culture.

But Janvier isn't just an artist, he's also a pioneer — a founding member of the collective sometimes known as the Indian Group of Seven. And he's an activist  — one who's always been plainspoken about Indigenous rights and colonialism's effects.

Social issues have become part of my life. I didn't ask for it, but it's there.- Alex Janvier, artist

In the video, Janvier shares a story about a childhood trauma that would shape his entire life: the day he was sent to residential school.

"At the age of eight I was just thrown in the back of a truck and I was taken somewhere. Sadly, they removed me and my language and anything that I thought I was," Janvier says in the video.

"Social issues have become part of my life. I didn't ask for it but it's there and maybe that's why I was placed on this earth, to just shout to the world, 'This is bullshit.'"


Now 82, and celebrating a birthday later this month, Janvier continues to be one of the country's most notable artists, and he and his family run the Janvier Gallery in the Cold Lake area.

Since 2016, a comprehensive retrospective of his work has toured the country. Organized by the National Gallery of Canada, the exhibition arrives at the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton on Feb. 15, where it remains to May 21. Featuring more than 100 of his paintings and drawings, it will continue on to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary later this year.           

The National Gallery of Canada has curated an exhibit of Alex Janvier's work from the past 65 years. (Alex Janvier/NGC)
Alex Janvier. Wounded Knee Boy, 1972. (Courtesy of Janvier Gallery)
Coming of the Opposite, 1972. Acrylic on canvas. (Alex Janvier/NGC)
Alex Janvier: The Four Seasons of ‘76, 1977. Acrylic on masonite. Courtesy of Janvier Gallery. (Don Hall)
Alex Janvier's 1988 painting Lubicon. (National Gallery of Canada)
Land of Beauty and Joy, 2015. Watercolour on paper. (Alex Janvier/NGC)


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