Jackson Beardy, Canadian (1944 - 1984)

Jackson Beardy

Jackson Beardy (July 24, 1944 – December 7, 1984) was a Canadian artist. He was an Anishinaabe-Indian and his works are characterized by scenes from the holy stories of his people. He belonged to the Woodland School of Art and was a prominent member of the Indian Group of Seven.

Beardy was the son of John Beardy and Dinah Monias and fifth of 13 children. He was raised by his grandmother, from whom he learned the rich history and sacred stories of his ancestors. He attended residential school at Portage la Prairie at the age of sixteen. He did not speak English when he started school. Beardy quickly distanced himself from the forced nature of education that all Indians in that area underwent at the residential schools, and it was from these lessons that he began to assert his “Indianness”. Interestingly, Beardy did benefit from his education at the boarding school, as it was there that he learned to draw and paint. Beardy then went on to graduate from Commercial Art at Tech Voc High School and then finished his education at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba.

In 1972 Jackson Beardy, Alex Janvier and Daphne Odjig held a joint exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called "Treaty Numbers 23, 287, 1171". The name was a reference to the treaty numbers that the Canadian government gave to the indigenous groups which they had concluded treaties with. From this exhibition grew a group of indigenous (Native) Canadian artists who named themselves the "Professional Native Indian Artists Association” in 1973, better known as the Indian Group of Seven. Included alongside Jackson Beardy was Alex Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Eddy Cobiness and Joseph Sanchez. They combined forces to promote their work into the world of western art. They were committed to indigenous control of indigenous art and changing acceptance from emphasizing "Indigenous" to emphasizing "Artistic” value. His media of choice was oil, acrylic, tempura and prints. His stylized paintings emphasized design and depicted Cree legends and stories told to him by his grandmother.

From 1982 through 1983, Jackson Beardy was senior arts advisor to the Federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development now Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. He helped to make a methodological shift from the anthropological to the aesthetic evaluation of “Native art”. He worked tirelessly to lay the institutional and activist political foundations, which would help future generation of First Nations artists.

Although Beardy's early work often narrates specific legends, his mature art expresses fundamental cosmological and spiritual concepts such as balance in nature, regeneration and growth, and the interdependence of all things. His distinctive graphic style is characterized by precisely defined flat areas of warm colour and curving ribbons of paint.

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