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AKOS: Corey Bulpitt


Last week I was lucky enough to swing a couple of days in Vancouver on my way back to Pittsburgh from Australia. I didn’t need a lot of persuading to stop by the seaport city; I always enjoy my time there, whether spent on the beach, at one of the many great museums, or at the delicious Toshi’s Sushi.

But the reason for my visit this time was to catch the exhibition AKOS: Corey Bulpitt, curated by Kwiaahwah Jones at the Bill Reid Gallery. I was really glad I did, because it is a knockout show. It is always exciting to see an artist emerging into an important new talent. AKOS shows Bulpitt restlessly but methodically working through a range of critical questions, and finding a pretty striking array of answers.

I am still processing my thoughts on the show, and on Bulpitt’s work in general, so that is something for a later, longer piece. For now, I just wanted to encourage you all to try and catch AKOS: Corey Bulpitt before it closes on September 14.

I have blogged on Bulpitt’s work before, and am currently working up a longer piece. Up until now, my interest has been mostly in his mural practice, and how this works both within and across cultures in interesting ways. But what AKOS: Corey Bulpitt shows is just how reflexively Bulpitt is engaging with the historical trajectory of these traditions.


Corey Bulpitt, This is Not Art (detail), 2014. Image from Urban Native Magazine


Take for instance the work Old School/New School 2014, which is one of the first “graffiti” style works in the exhibition. The title refers to a multi-faceted pun taking place across the canvas. On a black background, Bulpitt has stenciled a “school” of salmon in the traditional formline style. While formline is clearly an “old school,” the use of stencils belongs to a “new school” of graffiti practice (made famous by the work of Banksy, but which also has a lineage stretching back several decades.) On top of this, Bulpitt has created a crashing wave of free-hand aerosol paint lines, redolent of the classical style of “old school” graffiti practice. But like all of Bulpitt’s work, this combination of styles comes together into something seamlessly whole: itself a “new school” of Indigenous artistic practice, embodied by collective movements like Beat Nation and the Vancouver based Shop Wrong, of whom Bulpitt is an active and prominent figure.

This is a lot going on in just a single work, but the exhibition teases out the implications in even more profound ways, in large part due to the sophisticated curating of Kwiaahwah Jones. Jones has skillfully managed to unite the disparate parts of Bulpitt’s practice (from traditional totem poles, ceremonial masks, photography and painting) into a seamless whole. This is no mean feat in the complicated spaces of the Bill Reid Gallery, in which the work of the museum’s namesake casts a long shadow.


However, Bulpitt and Reid actually share many similarities: both discovered their Haida artistic heritage later in life; both viewed their predecessors with great reverence, but both were determined to be cultural innovators. Thus, while works like Pipe Dreams/Tunnel Vision should seem jarring set amidst Reid’s beautifully austere forms, they work in tandem to present both the persistence and dynamism of Haida culture.

The parallels were clearly not lost on the exhibition’s curator, who notes, “Graffiti and Haida design share many of the same artistic values: continuous flow that expands and compresses, balance in design, colour, positive and negative, and narrative which is reflective of society and social status.”

I was extremely fortunate to be given a tour of the exhibition by Jones, and she offered the apt description of Reid as a being “bridge between worlds.” It was this characteristic that she also saw in Bulpitt’s work. Both artists, she argued, were “healers, crossing cultures, bringing people together and showing them what is wrong, so that they can begin the healing process”

AKOS: Corey Bulpitt is on at the Bill Reid Gallery, 639 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC until September 14.

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Corey Bulpitt and Larissa Healey: Permanent Presence

With the start of the Fall semester, I am beginning to think that my aim to do a blog post a day was a little too ambitious… Nevertheless, despite having missed a few days, I am going to try and get back on the horse!


Larissa Healey and Corey Bulpitt with their mural Salmon Cycle – The Spirit Within 2013, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

On my recent visit to Vancouver, I became a little obsessed with Northwest Coast Indigenous art. It really is hard not to: it is extremely visually compelling, and speaks so beautifully to the landscape from which it comes. It certainly didn’t hurt that I spent much of the week at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, which houses so many cultural riches of region’s traditional owners. Lacking the budget to acquire any artworks, I returned with a lot of presents for my young son: a very nice t-shirt designed by Eric Parnell; an animal puzzle designed by Doug LaFortune (which Gabriel loves) and the Book of Play with Northwest Coast Native Art .


Corey Bulpitt and Larissa Healey, The Storm, 2011, Grenville Street Bridge, Vancouver, Canada.

This evening, as Gabriel and I were reading the Book of Play, one image in particular caught my attention. It was the Haida artist Corey Bulpitt‘s depiction of the rainbow. It is a striking image: the contrast between the multi-colour of the rainbow and the thick blocks of black and white typical of northwest coast art causes the image to leap out. Seeing the image in Gabe’s book reminded me of the first time I had seen this motif, in a different work of Bulpitt’s, which I stumbled upon quite by accident while in Vancouver. In 2011, Bulpitt included the rainbow motif at the very centre of 50 foot mural entitled The Storm. The Storm is one of two murals underneath the Granville Street bridge in Vancouver; the other being an equally impressive work by Bulpitt’s frequent collaborator Larissa Healey (which I believe pre-dates The Storm by 3 years). I was very pleased to stumble on these works, because I had recently seen Bulpitt and Healey’s wonderful mural outside the National Gallery of Canada, which had been commissioned for the exhibition Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art.


Larissa Healey and Corey Bulpitt, Granville Street Bridge Mural, 2008, Vancouver, Canada (photo 2013 by author).

As my photos show, the Grenville Street bridge murals have suffered a bit from the elements. Nevertheless, the rainbow beams out with an irrepressible luminosity. Bulpitt and Healey’s murals clearly belong to two identifiable traditions: Northwest Coast Native art and the more recent graffiti styles. In their dress and invocation of the parlance of hip-hop, they clearly find this to be a compatible marriage; certainly, their artwork moves fluidly within and across both circles of influence very productively. This week, however, I have been thinking about these works in slightly different terms.


Corey Bulpitt and Larissa Healey, The Storm, 2011, Grenville Street Bridge, Vancouver, Canada (photo 2013, by author).

In the 1920s, when Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros revived the Mexican tradition of mural paintings, the attraction of muralism to these artists was, in part, that it was anathema to the formalist traditions of easel painting. Murals were a way of reconnecting modern art to the people; of inserting it into the very architectural fabric of society. To this end, the Mexican muralists revived the Renaissance tradition of fresco painting, in which paint is applied to wet plaster, literally becoming part of the substance of the wall upon which it is painted. In some ways, I see a very obvious parallel here to what Bulpitt and Healey are attempting to do through uniting traditional Haida and Anishinaabe designs with the modes, mediums and language of the street. But there is something more here I think needs to be teased out. As a medium, fresco also attracted the Mexican muralists because of its permanence; it was intended to last forever, just like the revolutionary governments that it celebrated. How does this compare to Bulpitt and Healey’s murals, which belong to the ephemeral tradition of graffiti?


Larissa Healey and Corey Bulpitt, Salmon Cycle – The Spirit Within 2013, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

One answer might be found in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In the museum’s Great Hall are dozens of examples of Northwest Coast art in varying degrees of repair. In their traditional settings, the giant totem poles preserved at MOA would have eventually deteriorated, to be replaced by new poles. What remained was the imagery, passed on through generations, persisting long after the objects had returned to nature. In a sense, the medium of graffiti is somewhat more permanent, but its associations with the outlaw and the ephemeral is particularly poignant in the case of Indigenous cultural representations. This is a very bold assertion of permanent presence. These murals powerfully declare: “You might outlaw our culture, you might repress our imagery, but like the salmon we will return against the tide; our traditions are permanent.”

stepping forward quietly and boldly
elders watch as we stand our ground
once again the silence is broken
hear our songs under your bridge
we have not left n we rise again

Gurl 23 [aka Larissa Healey]

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