Alex Janvier's tile mosaic wins downtown arena art commission

Art by well-known aboriginal artist Alex Janvier will be carefully laid inside the floor of the Rogers Place winter garden.

'I once upon a time played hockey,' says Janvier

Alex Janvier, beside his painting Tsa tsa ke k'e, Iron Foot Place (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Alex Janvier describes his art work as a meeting place, and piece by piece he’ll watch as it’s laid down at the heart of Edmonton’s new meeting place, the downtown arena.

Janvier was chosen from a list of Canadian and international artists to create an immense artwork, 150 square metres, for the arena building.

Fitting, given his love of hockey, a sport he played until he was 63 and his legs gave out.  

“It’s the only thing that’s been closest to the native people, because that’s what they played on the ice ... it was one tribe against the other tribe and it would settle the difference that way,” he said, describing why hockey matters to aboriginal people.

“Instead of Wayne Gretzky, we could have had Wayne Two-feathers or something like that, it’s possible, it’s possible ... today.”

And that’s what Janvier sees in the new arena - possibilities. The possibility to believe that the past can be part of the future.

Janvier’s past informs his art. He’s from the Le Goff Reserve near Cold Lake and is of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent. When he was eight, he was sent to a residential school near St. Paul. While there, he was given the supplies to create his first painting.

He graduated with honours from Calgary's Alberta College of Art in 1960 and has had his art displayed all over the world, including a piece entitled Morning Star that now hangs at the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec.

Standing in front of a depiction of the art, Janvier gestured to the blue, the flow of the North Saskatchewan River and all the tiny tributaries that feed into it.

“I think the character of the area, the sky, the water, the rivers flow and the hills.”
A close up look at Alex Janvier's art, which will be assembled into a mosaic using tile pieces. (CBC)

“This was really a very, very important meeting place for all the tribes, and then when the fur trade came this became a central trading area.”

The unveiling ceremony was attended by Janvier's family, members of the Edmonton art council and city staff.

The lines of Janvier’s art intersect, much like his love of art and hockey, dancing in a continuous, and soon to be immense circle.

His art will be transformed into a massive mosaic , 150 square metres of tiny tiles, assembled by a team, overseen by Janvier. Once constructed, it will be laid inside the winter garden pedway floor stretching across 104th Avenue - a circle 13 metres in diameter.

“I don’t know where the winter gardens is ... but it must be some place in that building,” said Janvier.

His vision will take a year to make, six weeks to install. His will be one of four public art commissions in the downtown arena area, worth a total of $1.6 million.

The works fall under the city’s Percent for Art program, where one per cent of the construction costs of city-funded projects must go to public art.  

The arena competition attracted 184 artists from around the world, with the winners selected by a group of 10 anonymous judges.

Special way to honour Treaty Six territory

Mayor Don Iveson called Janvier's piece "spectacular," and "a special way to honour our place on Treaty Six territory and celebrate our rich and shared history."

“We feel there is no one better to capture the spirit of Edmonton’s deep history as a meeting place for aboriginal people and subsequent newcomers,” said Paul Moulton, executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council.

Quick to make a joke about the losing Oilers, Janvier said he’s honoured to have his artwork chosen for the downtown arena project, a piece he said “really belongs to all of us.”

And that good ole’ game of hockey that Janvier recalls with fondness? He wore number 16, the same year that Rogers Place arena is set to open, 2016.

with files from the CBC's Lydia Neufeld


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