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Michael Drebert’s exhibition at Malaspina Gallery entitled Bear House consists of five new artworks made in response to his experience living on Haida Gwaii from March until September of 2011. Each work was printed using lithographic limestone and black ink at Malaspina Studio in October of 2011. This was Drebert’s first time making prints, although text, ink and paper have been central to his work for some time. This is the first in a series of exhibitions at Malaspina Gallery that presents text-based works by Vancouver artists.
The work in this exhibition is largely inspired by the activism of Karey Cudmore (K.C.), a resident of Haida Gwaii who spent four months in the spring of 2010 dressed up as a black bear in Tlell to protest game hunting. Soon after Drebert arrived in Massett, Cudmore played an important role in Drebert’s discovery of the culture, environment and history of Haida Gwaii. Drebert describes his time on Haida Gwaii as rich, magical and surreal, yet, never fully experienced. Although the weather and climate could change so drastically, he found much comfort and stability among the people and places.
When he was working at Copper Beech Guest House, owned by Canadian writer Susan Musgrave, Drebert met Canadian artist Evelyn Roth. She was visiting for her last public performance of Salmon Dance at the Edge of the World Festival. On the morning of the festival, when the actor who was performing as the bear couldn’t attend the festival, Roth asked Drebert to fill in. Although he was not accustomed to performance, Drebert agreed to perform as he knew how important this piece was to the community. While on stage, the only audience member that he made eye contact with was Cudmore. As he danced, he became aware of the homage he was paying to Cudmore, whose recent activism played an integral role in banning the bear hunt. Later that evening, as the sun was setting, Drebert saw a Haida black bear for the first time.
Along with providing a narrative interpretation of Drebert’s experience of the Haida, the prints in Bear House are a combination of words and images that share a strong formal relationship with his earlier works. When asked about the simple and minimal qualities of his work, Drebert stated that when you start to scale back your work and reduce their qualities, the marks that are left become much more symbolic and meaningful to viewers.
In the production of this work, Drebert intentionally avoided many traditional printmaking processes, such as signing the work in pencil, using a chop to emboss the paper with the logo of the printmaking facility and exposing the deckle-edged paper. Lithography usually requires that the artist prepare a stone with an inverted image so that when the paper is pressed against the stone, the image transfers correctly. For most of the works in Bear House, Drebert intentionally drew and wrote on the stones without inverting the images so that they would appear inverted when printed on the paper.
Inversion is an important formal component of the prints in Bear House. Wheel is an edition of four, all of which are displayed in a row and hung in a different orientation. According to salamba shirshanana, a headstand pose in yoga, inverting one’s body helps to filter and cleanse fluids by moving them through the core and into the head. Inversion is important to consider when viewing this body of work by an artist who is new to printmaking and whose ideas are inspired by journeys to new places.
Curated by Justin Muir, Executive Director, Malaspina Printmakers
Graduating with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria in 2010, Michael Drebert’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Contemporary Art Gallery of Vancouver, the Western Front, Artspeak, Western Bridge, and Blanket, among others.
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