Pudlo Pudlat : Au-delà des limites

Pudlo Pudlat: Above the Limits

March 18, 2021 - February 20, 2022

View available works

Guest consultant Nak Alariaq

La Guilde is proud to present, in partnership with Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project, the exhibition Pudlo Pudlat: Above the Limits.

Pudlo Pudlat (1916-1992), an Inuk hunter and artist, was born in the outpost camp Admadjuak and settled in Kinngait (Cape Dorset, Nunavut) in the 1950s. Pudlat and La Guilde’s history goes back to the 1950s when La Guilde hired a roving craft officer, Saumik (James Archibald Houston) to travel along the Arctic to Inuit communities. Saumik’s goal was to see how viable an arts economy would be, and what type of art and crafts could be created. Along with Pudlat, Saumik encouraged other Inuit to draw, such as Kenojuak Ashevak. The first generation Kinngait artists were established through the formation of Kinngait Studios (formerly known as the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative) in 1959 with the help of Saumik, Pudlat, Ashevak, and a group of trained and skilled master printmakers, starting with Iyola Kingwatsiak, Kananginak Pootoogook, Eegyludluk Pootoogook, and Lukta Qiatsuk. Since 1959, the group of Kinngarmiut (Kinngait residents) has released an annual collection of prints every fall based on Pudlat’s graphic designs. It is Canada’s longest-running arts cooperative still operating today.

Exhibition view, Pudlo Pudlat: Above the limits
Exhibition view, Pudlo Pudlat: Above the limits
Exhibition view, Pudlo Pudlat: Above the limits
Exhibition view, Pudlo Pudlat: Above the limits

Pudlat was the first Inuk to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1990 and is one of Kinngait’s most celebrated graphic artists. He did not have professional training as an artist or sculptor. Until his late 40s, when Saumik encouraged him to draw, he survived through hunting and fishing along the Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Region). Pudlat was eloquent and open in the way he spoke about his life, family, and career drawing, living in outpost camps and eventually settling in Kinngait, though still travelling the world to share his art and perspective.

“When I want to draw, it seems like the pencil I'm holding has a mind of its own. Although my hand is holding it, the pencil seems to move by itself.” (Pudlo Pudlat, Inuktitut Magazine 1991:45-46)

The semi-permanent exhibition is a collaboration between La Guilde’s team and the consultant Nak Alariaq to show Pudlat’s amazing heritage. Included in the exhibition are a few texts presenting the artist and aspects of his works (collaboration, technologies, travelling, and animals).

Pudlo Pudlat: Above the Limits is not only about the advancements in Inuit Art made by Pudlat, but also his life as an Inuk man which was radically changed mid-career—from hunter to artist. Pudlat’s work is an intimate and first-hand account of his journey travelling across the world. Pudlat had a unique relationship with the art world as he was involved with the making of art and participated in exhibition openings. We wanted his perspective to be at the core of the exhibition. Above the Limits acknowledges the role of Pudlat in spreading Inuit Art, crossing subject-matter, and pushing the boundaries.


By Nak Alariaq

In the 1950s, when Saumik asked Kinngarmiut (Kinngait residents) to draw and sculpt stone to sell to the southern market, Pudlo Pudlat wanted to be a sculptor. Unfortunately, Pudlat sustained a hand injury during the late 1950s that warranted a hospitalisation ... in in a sanitorium in the south. He left for half a year to receive proper treatment, though his hand was never the same. Therefore, Saumik encouraged Pudlat to draw given the state of his hand and the high injury risks involved with carving stone.

There are just a handful of Pudlo Pudlat’s sculptures ever created. Pudlat was known to enjoy hunting caribou and attempted to make his sitting caribou carving to look as realistic as possible. He valued realism in his work, expressing that the most difficult part about drawing and sculpting was trying to convey emotions.

Kate Graham visited Kinngait in the 1970s and taught Pudlo Pudlat and several other Inuit how to use acrylic and watercolour paints through a collaborative painting workshop. When their painting workshop was complete, Graham left supplies behind for the artists to use. Pudlat preferred using a blue wash paint as his background for landscape drawings he would finish over the wash. Pudlat also experimented with other colours such as pink—a colour that reflects the ambiance and vivid atmosphere of an arctic sunset in late June or early July.

Pudlo Pudlat did not shy away from blending the traditional Qikiqtaaluk landscape with large ships along the coastline, and airplanes dotting the sky. In an interview with Inuktitut Magazine, Pudlat stated that he was aware he was one of the only Kinngait artists from his generation to incorporate modern technologies into his work and he intentionally included them, some of which he stated have meaning while others are there for aesthetic, or creative reasons. He further elaborated that technologies have improved some aspects of living in the arctic. The introduction of airplanes and helicopters made rescuing hunters and stranded sailors much safer and more reliable than ever before. Since the 1990s, other artists such as Itee Pootoogook and Tim Pitseolak have drawn larger-than-life drawings of heavy machinery and the modern landscape in Kinngait.

Travelling may have been one of Pudlo Pudlat’s favourite activities. Seasonal travel between camps was common during Pudlat’s childhood and young adulthood. With the change in season, came a change in scenery, with the annual move to summer, spring fishing, and winter camps. Pudlat’s landscapes show the season passing through the inclusion of blue water, brown, summer rocky mountains, and types of equipment, such as boats, cars, or airplanes. The first time Pudlat travelled south was for treatment for his hand injury in the late 1950s. Pudlat embraced the trip as an adventure given the circumstances. At the time, he did not know he would become one of the most influential Inuit graphic artists of the 20th century. After being propelled into the art scene later in the 1970s, Pudlat travelled across Canada, the United States, and Europe to open exhibitions and share his perspective on Inuit art and culture.

Pudlo Pudlat was interested in exploring animal imageries in drawing and sculpture. Hence, a large number of Pudlo Pudlat’s prints and drawings in La Guilde’s collection include birds and muskox. The way Pudlat approached drawing the eyes on people, birds, and animals are very similar, as are the pointy beaks and long necks on his bird drawings (see Loons Protecting Young, 1984). The shaggy, dark brown muskox (Young Girl and Muskox, 1983) is another theme that Pudlat often drew, despite the Kinngait ecology lacking any naturally occurring muskoxen. Pudlat may have seen the animals on television or while visiting and touring the country to talk about his work and life. Arctic char (The Fish takes Flight, 1983)—a common type of cold-water fish similar in taste and appearance to salmon—also appears quite often in Pudlat’s work.

In 1949, the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, now La Guilde, held the very first exhibition of contemporary Inuit Art from a small group of carvings collected by Saumik on his first expedition. Pudlo Pudlat’s lithograph, In Celebration, was commissioned by La Guilde for the 1979’s exhibition (of the same title) commemorating the 1949’s first exhibition.

The exhibition reacted to a 1977 article stating unequivocally that Inuit Art was dead and that “the buyer should beware” of the newer works. Words travelled fast and the field became self-conscious of its convictions affecting the sales and messages surrounding the works. Rumours can be dangerous motivators. The exhibition, In Celebration, had to do more than honour a past event, it had to visually refute the “doom and gloom of the dying-art-Experts”. La Guilde’s Director, Virginia J. Watt, curated an exhibition that connected the established with the younger artists—a concept still at the core of La Guilde’s mission. In a letter to Inuit Arts and Crafts on the exhibition, she defined art as “[...] a sharing experience, between the artist and the viewer. It is a bringing together of the artists’ and viewers’ emotions, memories, images and ideas. It is a dynamic, individual expression of man.” Dorset Fine Arts originally labelled the lithograph Summer Sky until Watt suggested to also name it In Celebration to become the spirit of the exhibition. It represented her feelings toward the exhibition much better than any words—the forward and upward stature of the muskox looking towards what she saw as the possibilities of Inuit Art.


A behind-the-scenes of our Programming and Communications Manager, Genevieve Duval and Cultural Activities Coordinator and Galerie Assistant, Marie-Hélène Naud putting the exhibition together and a quick preview of the space:

The artist Napatsi Folger presents an artist talk on comics and the multiple possibilities offered by the juxtaposition of text and image. For those who couldn't attend, here is the video of the artist talk:

PHOTOS: Views of the exhibition, 2021. © La Guilde
IMAGE: Assemblage of works from Pudlo Pudlat: Above the Limits, 2021. © La Guilde
VIDEO: Preview | Pudlo Pudlat: Above the Limits, 2021; Artist Talk: Discovering Comics | NAPATSI FOLGER, 2021. © La Guilde