Itee Pootoogook, (Inuit, Cape Dorset, Canada, b. 1951)
Two Seasons, 2008
11 x 33 inches
Reproduced with the permissions of Dorset Fine Arts
”I taught myself everything. Nobody taught me anything. I had no teacher. I learned on my own.”
— Itee Pootoogook
In these two prints, Itee Pootoogook depicts the Arctic landscape with powerful simplicity and deft precision. On the left, sunlight floods the summer seascape, radiating from the page in shades of green and yellow. Hazy summer stands in direct opposition to the cool clarity of the winter print on the right, in which the central sliver of blue hints at the endlessness of the Arctic Ocean. Pootoogook’s geometric arrangement of color effortlessly makes the viewer imagine the reality of these abstracted landscapes. The viewer is positioned as if looking at the landscape through a camera lens, a common theme in Pootoogook’s work, who often uses photographs as inspiration.
His use of abstraction ties him both to the broader art world but also to the tradition of Inuit printmaking. Pootoogook was raised in Cape Dorset, Nunavut and was encouraged in his artistic practice by both the community of printmakers who lived there and his parents, artists in their own right, Ishuhungitok and Paulassie Pootoogook. Traditional Inuit prints often take images from daily life, primarily Arctic animals, and depict them in fantastic and abstracted ways. These printing techniques take inspiration from the forms of shadows that are so significant in a landscape like the Arctic where there are vast stretches of bare land with nothing to break them up but the long shadows of the people and animals who live there. Therefore abstract forms in Inuit prints are not adopted from Western art traditions of the abstract, but from their own daily experiences.
Pootoogook’s prints take this Inuit art tradition and update them to combine these abstract printing methods, with a strong connection to the landscape. To allow the viewer to think more deeply about the Arctic, Pootoogook creates two deceptively simple images, reducing the landscape to simple colors and forms. His deliberate choice to depict the horizon line as if through the viewfinder of a camera, totally void of human presence, emphasizes the power of an immense landscape. When considering Pootoogook’s work it is important to understand the specific importance of the Arctic landscape to the Inuit community. Esteemed Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. writes, “The vast number of experiences we have with land are of a reflective kind…There we begin to meditate on who we are, what our society is, where [Indigenous Peoples] came from… Lands somehow call forth in us these questions and give us a feeling of being within something larger and more powerful than ourselves.”
Two Seasons can be seen as this type of meditation. Pootoogook helps open the viewers’ eyes to the stunning visual reality of snow, land, and water that is so central to the way of life in Nunavut. Landscapes which could be viewed as simple abstractions takes on deeper meaning when understood as the source of life, philosophy, and motivation for the Inuit. Pootoogook’s work marks a new generation of Cape Dorset print artists– those who dispel the stereotype of Inuit prints as romantic depictions of hunting and fishing life. These prints are antithetical to that stereotype, expertly examining the simplicity of reality, while bringing the Arctic landscape into sharp focus.
Nicholas Corda ’14 & Pilar Jefferson ’15