“I seek to express the spiritual strength and power of my culture – historic and traditional – in relation to today’s rapidly changing multicultural society.” –Phillip John Charette, Alaskan Native Artist
The past merges with the present to create who we are and the experiences that we have. I am a firm believer that those journeys are planned well in advance of our human birth and each adventure is one more step to us becoming more complete than we have ever been at that moment.
In the belief system of the the Yupiit Nation, which is located on the edge of the Kuskokwin River in Southwestern Alaska, the past, too, is intertwined with the present making people who they are.
In the case of Phillip John Charette
or “Aarnaquq” ( “the one that is dangerous”), a French Canadian and Yupiit artist, he is also linked to his past via his great-great-grandfather– the man who gave him his indigenous namesake and who lives within him. It is that concept that Charette incorporates throughout his work, which is seeded in traditional Yup’ik
cosmology. Like most contemporary Native American work, Charette draws upon the past and adds his own unique spin that both honors his ancestors and speaks volumes about the world that we live in today.
A mixed media artist, Charette utilizes a variety of materials including clay, wood, driftwood, glass and glass beads, metal, stone, rawhide, porcelain, feathers, quills, shells, bones, paint, and found objects. Whereas many of the artist’s masks are made of clay, traditional Yup’ik masks would have been made out of wood and then stained with clay. In Charette’s words, his contemporary works possess a “wood and organic look.”
It seems that I’m talking a great deal about serendipity this week. I don’t mean to appear to take a Pollyanna approach to it all, but running into Charette at the 2010 Heard Museum Guild’s Indian Fair and Market
was indeed serendipitous, mostly because his art is some of the most exciting and thoughtful I have seen in my life. As a matter of fact, it was after viewing his work, which was indelibly burned into my mind, I became determined to improve upon my own mask work.
About three years ago, while on vacation in Seattle from New York City for a family visit, my mother and I popped into the Stonington Gallery
to see what was new. As I made made my way to the rear of the gallery, which specializes in Northwest Coast and Inuit art, I stopped in my tracks at the sight of Charette’s piece Other Ways of Seeing
. As a mask maker, I was enthralled by the size and the drama of the work. I must admit that often when I look at art, I get so wrapped up in my excitement, I forget to read the piece’s title or even inquire about who the artist is. Such was the case that day. I left the Stonington completely intoxicated by the beauty of his work. I should also mention that, ironically, our paths had also crossed at the opening night party of Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 2
at the Museum of Arts and Design
in New York in 2005, and yet we still missed meeting one another.
Things started to come full circle when a few weeks before the Heard show, I was flipping through the Santa Fean
magazine Indian Market edition and saw a blurb regarding Charette’s selection as a SWAIA
fellow. For some reason, I made the emotional connection to the art, but the name and face did not register.
Finally the circle became complete when I ended up attending the 2010 Heard Museum Guild’s Indian Fair and Market on March 6 and 7. I was on my way to visit my friend Sheldon Harvey’s
booth. Suddenly, I looked up and saw some very familiar pieces. It was Charette’s masks! I was so excited I could barely contain myself. Hugely influenced by the indigenous art of the Northwestern coast of Canada and the United States in my own work, once again the Universe brought to me another extraordinary interaction. All in due time, I say!
Isn’t it ironic that Charette had brought along that iconic piece Other Ways of Seeing
to the Heard? Now, I was able to see the piece through the eyes of the artist…and you can, too, by clicking HERE
Charette currently makes his home in Baker City in the Eastern part of Oregon. A Harvard graduate, he is also a playwright.