Decades ago Alvin Mack had but one wish for his art: to have it displayed alongside one of his idols, famed Haida artist Bill Reid.
“I remember one night, about 20 years ago now, I was hanging out with my cousin and he asked me what my goals were in regards to my art,” he shared. “I told him I wanted to have my art displayed alongside Bill Reid’s. He laughed at me, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I never forgot it.”
Years later Mack received a call from a gallery up north, who had purchased one of his masks.
“I asked them to send me a picture of it displayed in the gallery,” he remembers. “They sent me a photo and there it was, my mask hanging right next to a piece by Bill Reid.”
He was on cloud nine. So happy, he explained, that he lost a bit of direction. After having reached such a lofty goal: what next?
“I firmly believe that when one door closes, another one opens,” he said. “So I reached that goal, now what? It may seem like all these difficulties we face in life aren’t adding up too much but when you get there, you can look back and see how much the work counts. There are no limits to how far you can go.”
Mack is a humble man, but the truth of the matter is that he is increasingly being recognized as one of the top northwest coast artists in the world. This latest exhibit, entitled Xi Xanya Dzam, features work by 11 recipients of the BC Lifetime Creative Achievement Awards for First Nations Art (2007 - 2016) and highlights how different nations celebrate excellence.
Mack received the BC Lifetime Creative Achievement Award in 2014. Previous recipients include mentor to many Nuxalk Freda Diesing students, Tahltan/Tlingit artist Dempsey Bob and Musqueam artist Susan Point, who is currently featured at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Since being informed of the show, he has been holed up in his carving shed “cleaning up” the four pieces he will be bringing to Vancouver. He shows me a miniature totem pole he has been working on, unwrapping the lower half to reveal the finished product.
The piece is so flawless it looks as though it has been thoroughly sanded, but that is just an illusion created by a steady hand, hours of patient practice and meticulous work that stretches through the night into the early morning hours.
“See here,” he says as he points to a section of a mouth on the pole, about an inch wide. “I spent an hour just making sure that section was cleaned out and the lines were even.”
Xi Xanya Dzam (pronounced hee hun ya zam) is the Kwak'wala word describing incredibly talented and gifted people who create works of art. The exhibition is both a showcase and a critical exploration of ‘achievement’ and ‘excellence’ in traditional and contemporary First Nations art.
The works by these accomplished artists have been featured together in one show for the first time ever. This diverse presentation includes traditional masks, carvings, baskets and moosehide, as well as contemporary prints, sculptures and jewelry. It is an amazing opportunity to learn more about the rich, sophisticated and complex arts and cultural histories of BC First Nations.
Featured artists include Dempsey Bob, Tahltan, Tlingit, Robert Davidson, Haida, Mary Michell, Carrier, Earl Muldon, Gitxsan, Rena Point Bolton, Sto:lo, Primrose Adams, Haida, Norman Tait, Nisga’a, Mandy Brown, Nlaka’pamux, Alvin Mack, Nuxalk, Joe David, Nuu-cha-nulth, and Susan A. Point, Musqueam
The show runs from April 5 - September 4, 2017 at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, 639 Hornby Street, Vancouver.