Annie Pootoogook

McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Canada

When Annie Pootoogook’s career blossomed in the early 2000s, she became widely known for her coloured pencil and ink drawings of everyday life in the Canadian North, rendered in flat planes and roughly finished. Among the first images one sees in ‘Cutting Ice’, the McMichael Collection’s survey exhibition of the late artist’s drawings, is Composition (Family Portrait) (2005–06): a modestly sized pen-and-paper depiction of a family dressed for the North’s bitter cold, it is in some ways a familiar example of Pootoogook’s oeuvre. But the confidence and use of volume in the representation of the mother (the main figure) in particular are unusual, as are the monochrome palette and relatively high degree of finish. And while we shouldn’t overplay this drawing’s deviation from what we might expect of Pootoogook’s work, its presence near the show’s entrance sets an important tone: formally and thematically, there’s more to this artist than the standard line suggests.

This presentation demonstrates that Pootoogook’s experience and imagination ranged far beyond the desperation underpinning her iconic drawings of a young woman destroying her parents’ alcohol cache (Memory of My Life: Breaking Bottles, 2002) or a man beating his wife (Man Abusing His Partner, 2003). Cheeky subject matter abounds in the work on display: for example, in Red Bra (2006), a red brassiere floats on a white background, looking like something a woman might wear when feeling playful. Whether the bra is about to be put on or has just been removed matters less than its recording of a moment when its owner (Pootoogook?) feels poised, sexy and carefree — an insouciance that also marks the artist’s drawing of a couple watching porn (Composition: Watching Porn on Television, 2005) or of a woman (Pootoogook again) primping before a mirror, naked but for her high heels (Woman at Her Mirror [Playboy Pose], 2003).

web_hr.2016.10.jpg

Annie Pootoogook, Composition (Family Portrait), 2005-2006, coloured pencil and felt-tip pen over graphite on paper, 50.7 x 66.3 cm. Courtesy: The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

Annie Pootoogook, Composition (Family Portrait), 2005–06, coloured pencil and felt-tip pen over graphite on paper, 51 x 66 cm. Courtesy: The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

This exhibition sheds light on the artist’s technique by displaying other formal strategies she’s tried, encouraging a reconsideration of her relationship to modern and contemporary art. For instance, her interest in scenes of everyday life links her to countless artists concerned with common experience, from Gustave Courbet and Pablo Picasso to Tracey Emin and Sally Mann. Yet Pootoogook viewed her association with the contemporary art world wryly, as we see in drawings of the media scrum she faced upon winning the Sobey Art Award (Sobey Awards, 2006) or of her time in Scotland for the Glenfiddich artists’ residency Myself in Scotland (2005–06)  – as well as in Composition (Pipe) (2006), a large still life of an elegantly curved pipe whose resemblance to René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (1929) seems hardly accidental. As Heather Igloliorte observes in an obituary for Pootoogook, this skillful, witty art de-exoticizes the Arctic while underscoring its literal and figurative distance from the Canadian South.

web2_hr.2016.10.jpg

Annie Pootoogook, Myself in Scotland, 2005-2006, coloured pencil and felt-tip pen on paper, 76.5 x 56.6 cm. Courtesy: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

Annie Pootoogook, Myself in Scotland, 2005–06, coloured pencil and felt-tip pen on paper, 77 x 57 cm. Courtesy: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

The invitation to reframe our thinking about Pootoogook presented by the sweep of her work here – together with several drawings by other key members of Cape Dorset’s art community like Itee Pootoogook and Siassie Kenneally – is welcome. For one thing, the work deserves it. For another, throughout 2017, the Canadian government enjoined its citizens to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary even though, as grassroots protesters have argued, to do so unavoidably celebrates the genocide of indigenous people. Not everyone shares this view; the many concurrent contemporary indigenous art shows in Toronto address this history in different ways. But the fact that we still do not know how Pootoogook died at the age of 46 in September 2016 strongly suggests that, fame notwithstanding, she remained ensnared by the social malaise her work decries. I wish I could believe that her artistic legacy – smart, articulate, compelling – was a strong enough rebuke to provoke real action.

Main image: Annie Pootoogook, Annie and Andre, 2009, coloured pencil and graphite on paper, 50 x 66 cm. Courtesy:  McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

Issue 192

First published in Issue 192

January - February 2018

Most Read

The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018