Red Is Beautiful, A Major Retrospective Of Saulteaux Artist-Robert Houle@Art Gallery Of Ontario

By Wayne Baggs

 Enjoy the works of Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful at the AGO, now until April 18-2022. Robert Houle, born in St. Boniface Manitoba, is an Anishinaabe Saulteaux contemporary artist. One of the most influential First Nations artist of the contemporary art world. As a boy abducted and sent to residential school, Houle has insight into the human condition that has taken him from that horrid experience to art school to museums’ boardrooms and on to the art world stage.

Robert has done this as an artist, curator, and writer. I found his story, told through his paintings and drawings, very compelling. Houle reminds us, Pontiac is not a car, Apache is not a helicopter as he challenges our understanding of Western and First Nations art history. With a very impressive body of work to choose from, this exhibit comprises over 90 large installations, paintings and drawings. Works from 1970 to 1983 show his exploration of abstract expressionism and pure abstraction and geometry, bringing the world an unfamiliar voice of modern abstraction as he blends in older Indigenous traditions. Apparent are the spiritual qualities of colour blended with organic materials, Anishinaabe geometry and Indigenous sacred belongings that values immediacy.

Many iconic works are on display here. Kanata and Parfeches for the Last Supper are but two. Respect for Indigenous spiritual traditions are predominate in Houle’s works. Robert Houle stayed independent from the trends, challenging audiences’ expectations of First Nations art. Houles’ later works brought the residential schools era into sharp focus. A series of visceral paintings, such as Sandy Bay, dealt with his personal experiences of this horrid era of abuse. Houle’s story is fascinating, and the spirit is deep. Walk through 50 years of the story by this artist brings us to today’s relations with First Nations and Settlers. Go now and take in the Picasso Blue period, also at the AGO.

We would like to thank Wendy So, AGO for the invitation to this event.