Unfortunately, Pat Feheley, of Feheley Fine Arts, is very good at her job. The job I am referring to is organizing celebrations of life for Inuit artists who have died far too early in their careers. The causes of death vary but the end result is always the same, significant loss to Inuit Art and Canadian Art. There is also the profound loss to the families of the deceased. It is this sense of family that Ms. Feheley honours by arranging for members of the artist’s family to attend. Getting the family from Cape Dorset to Toronto requires patience, tact, and flexibility. Being unflappable also helps. On July 13, 2017,”we” gathered in Feheley Fine Arts to celebrate the life of Inuit artist, Tim Pitsiulak who died at forty-nine.
Who were “we”? Administrators from the arts community, writers, critics, and collectors. There was also Tim’s family of various generations, but all bearing a remarkable resemblance to Tim. The celebration was put on Facebook for family that could not make it to Toronto. In an ironic way, technology could tell Tim’s story but not save his life.
The celebration was structured quite simply but effectively. Pat made some introductory remarks of welcome and then introduced the first speaker, Steve Smart, an art consultant. Mr. Smart remarked on Tim’s creative courage with scale and subject matter. Tim expanded the vocabulary of Inuit Art while remaining a humble and modest hunter whose hunting skills fed his people. The eye of the hunter fostered the eye of the artist. Acuity of observation is essential to both. Sarah Milroy, writer and critic, spoke about Tim as a leader of his people. In the Inuit culture, the leader just is and is accepted by everyone. Are you reading this, Mr. Trump? Jennifer Bhogal, Open Studio, spoke about the two weeks Tim worked on his printmaking at Open Studio. She was impressed by Tim’s work ethic, professionalism, and the fact that there was no eraser at his desk. Now, that’s artistic courage.
The second part of the celebration was given over to Tim’s family and, most particularly, his older sisters. As they spoke, the audience became aware of the richness of the Inuit culture and how that culture was embraced by Tim and informed his practice. Tim was raised in the traditional Inuit way and taught to revere family, community, and nature. For those Inuit who strayed too far from these values, the results were often devastating. Although Tim was fully integrated into his Inuit life, he was able to successfully navigate the often tricky shoals of Canadian life and art. He did so with modesty, generosity, and humour. Tim took his art seriously, but not himself.
Pat Feheley’s celebration of Tim Pitsiulak’s life showed one simple and moving way Peace and Reconciliation can be achieved between the Inuit of Cape Dorset and their brothers and sisters in the South.
Tom Maunder, Gallery 1007