Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Art of Dimension exhibit opened at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver on July 4 and will remain on display until Oct. 15.
The work of Jesse Brillon, 50, and his niece Marlo Wylie Brillon, 24, both of Haida descent, takes the traditional and gives it a modern spin with sculptures, carvings, jewelry and repoussé, a metal-working technique.
“The title, The Art of Dimension, has a lot to do with the physical physicality of the art, but for me, it's also the dimension of the art in terms of how meaningful it is to them personally,” said gallery curator Beth Carter. “It's going to be a very rich and beautiful show, but celebrating, as I said, all these other dimensions of family and heritage and lineage.”
The gallery namesake, Bill Reid, was a member of the Haida Nation and renowned for his artistic creations in the later part of his life.
“Bill Reid was born in 1920, so you know, he really lived at that time of huge transition for Indigenous people in Canada,” Carter said. “He helped to revive many of the art designs, cultural designs and the style of the Haida people.”
One of the traditional mediums Reid is known for reviving is his creations using the technique repoussé.
“He was not alone doing this, but he was one of the key people and he encouraged so many other younger artists to follow in his footsteps and to follow their dreams and he helped create a path for artists to have careers as artists and, you know, this with the oppression of the Indian Act and the residential schools,” said Carter.
Repoussé is a traditional art form where the artist takes a flat piece of metal and heats it and then pushes it from the backside to create a three-dimensional form. Once it is pushed out, the artist will then push back in certain areas to create their vision and sculpture.
“The reason the Bill Reid Gallery was interested in the show is that Jesse is one of the younger artists that has followed in Bill Reid's footsteps and who has taken a great amount of inspiration from Bill Reid,” Carter said. “(Jesse) says one of his favorite things to do is to take a lifeless piece of metal, just a flat piece of metal, and just bring it to life… give it a lot of personality.”
Jesse, said his mother had been close friends with Reid and there were many times Jesse and his mother would visit Reid at his home. His mother would cook for Reid and Jesse would just watch the artist create at a very young age.
In fact, it was Reid who saw Jesse’s artistic side and once asked him to paint in a sketch he had drawn.
“After that, he was really hooked on the idea of following an art career,” Carter said.
Jesse said those special opportunities didn’t occur often when they visited Reid. It was more of a chance to watch him create, which led to him finding inspiration for his own art.
“At that point, I was really still quite young then, but, you know, his work of course inspired me because he really brought repoussé, the sculpted metal works, back. Back to our people, really, I mean. He started before anybody else doing that kind of work, so, it was his works that really inspired me.”
Jesse also learned the art of inspiring a younger generation from Reid.
As a young child, his niece Marlo would watch her uncle. She had always said she wanted to “be like her uncle Jesse” when she grew up, and now she is making those dreams a reality.
“I’ve always thought how awesome my uncle’s art was growing up and now I really love to create,” Marlo said. “I started to screen print when I was 14, and then I helped my mom (owner of Totem Design House).”
Marlo currently specializes in wood carvings, but hopes to one day take those skills and begin working on repoussé as well.
Marlo has four pieces in the exhibit, including a large six-foot round wooden plaque, and Jesse has 15 in the exhibit, including a copper shield and items adorned with his clan’s crest.
Of those, some of the pieces were used in Marlo’s mother’s wedding and traditional feast at the Haida Nation.
“It’s not just our art. It’s about culture and it’s about family… Art is part of culture, but in our language, there isn’t a word for art because everything was functional and everything had a use. But I think that’s another point for what we want people to take away, is that you know you see things in the gallery and it’s cool, but to put it into context of what we do in our culture as well,” Marlo said.
For more information on the gallery and the exhibit visit Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.