Artist’s Arctic Fever keeps him heading north

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In the first few days of a new art show at Curiosity House Books, one painting of a Buluga whale being butchered had already raised some eyebrows and sparked discussion.

We asked painter Rob Saley why are people so bothered by that image. 

“It’s an easy question. It’s a beautiful animal that’s in the process of being butchered.”

It’s part of an ongoing series on Inuit country food.

“My intent is to draw awareness, open a discussion or change people’s views on hunting in the north and the need for it. The north is a very complex and crazy place and yet we’ve tried to govern it from the south for so long. When you are up there you see some crazy stuff. I like to challenge people to make them think. The price of food in the north is so extremely high and everybody’s like, why don’t they shop at the supermarket? In order to do that you’d need to be making a minimum of a six-figure income and that’s just not the case in most northern communities.”

Not only is it their traditional way of eating, but the cost of imported food necessitates hunting. Saley said 30-70 per cent of the Inuit diet includes animals harvested from the land. He said economically speaking, the costs associated with hunting are lower than buying food at the supermarket, where a pound of ground beef could cost $25.

“I, at times, like to take things that may be a little disturbing to people but to paint it in what I think is a beautiful way… It’s a challenging piece,” said Saley.  

Some of the paintings are done on newspapers from Nunavut. 

“I want to have a voice from the north. Being a Kabloona, or a white guy from the south, painting theories on Inuit country food, I don’t want it to seem like I am appropriating things. The newsprint serves to show headlines that are important in the north. It has the Inuktitut syllabics on it (the Inuit written language) and the newspapers I pick usually have something to do with the animal,” said Saley. 

The Nottawa area resident has been travelling to the north since 2005 when he first went on a trip north with the artist collective Drawnonward. They travelled on a ship along southern Baffin Island, northern Quebec and over to Greenland, with their travelling paint boxes, painting at every opportunity.  

“It was an amazing, eye-opening experience and I certainly caught the Arcticus Feverus which is a Farley Mowatt made up term for falling in love with the north and leaving a little piece of yourself there and then constantly travelling back to try and find it,” said Saley.

Along the way they were invited to help start a new art camp the following year. This summer they will travel to Rankin Inlet for the seventh camp, which has evolved from a youth program to one for all ages.

The show entitled “From Georgian Bay to the Arctic” runs until May 27 and includes 28 pieces in total. In addition to the work inspired by the north, there is also work done closer to home of the Pretty River Valley, Algonquin and some from Quebec.

An opening reception will be on Saturday, May 12 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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