Internationally-acclaimed artist IceBear of Crofton always raises eyebrows with his work.
His paintings and sculptures can’t simply be scanned without a closer look. There is so much to absorb and try to understand about the messages and images conveyed in his art.
The Cowichan Public Art Gallery arranged an extensive collection of IceBear’s works through the artist that are currently on display at the Portals Gallery at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan until Aug. 20. Hours are: Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday noon-4 p.m.
IceBear’s The Modern Age Dreams of a Dreamer exhibit has been garnering plenty of attention since the opening reception on July 28 and subsequent public opening the next day for the content and magnificence of his work.
The exhibit has been several years in the making, with the pandemic putting several things on hold, and many items in the collection have never been seen in public before. IceBear either specifically created them for the exhibition, had some tucked away in his studio or they were acquired by collectors right from the studio.
Suffice it to say this is the largest assembly of original IceBear art ever shown in one exhibit.
“We at the Cowichan Public Art Gallery are proud to present IceBear’s works, works that refer in some sense to both traditional and contemporary art making but are above all authentic, sincere and unique to the wonderful artist, IceBear,” noted Jock Hildebrand, Cowichan Public Art Gallery president, in a message contained within a commemorative booklet available at the exhibit.
IceBear’s traditional tribal home is Cape Croker where the Chippewas of Nawash lived on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario. He’s been in Crofton about 20 years.
IceBear said the paintings and sculptures he does are the embodiment of visions that have been with him most of his life. Because these visions are assigned to him and not his own personal creations, that’s why he uses his totem name of IceBear and not his given name, Chris Johnston.
He’s a true visionary, philosopher and so much more for his ability to transform those visions into something tangible for the public to contemplate.
“To me, it’s not always something that’s heavy,” IceBear explained. “To me, it has beauty, purpose and meaning. It’s not about painting pretty pictures all the time. It’s kind of like restorative. It’s not trying to persuade you in any way. It’s putting something that’s out there.”
The art runs the full gamut from the world of fantasy to the often disturbing reality of modern times, with the destruction of ancient forests and the nightmarish situations being faced around the world. IceBear ties in topics such as environmental issues, greed, and truth and reconciliation.
His piece called Windigo is on loan from a private collection. It’s a haunting image of “a creature that consumes,” IceBear pointed out. “The more it eats, the more it thirsts, the more it hungers.”
On the environmental side, IceBear’s The Mother Tree shows an ancient forest in all its glory. But it’s a two-sided piece that can’t be hung on a wall and the opposite side shows the view of its destruction with no time for the natural aging process or for another tree to grow in her place.
No two of IceBear’s paintings or sculptures are alike. He credits that to the individual complete images that exist in his mind, with each unique in colour and texture.
That means each is predetermined in genre, technique, size and shape long before he puts brush to canvas which he does with both hands or pencil to sketch pad.
IceBear will turn 70 next year, but it’s just a number and he has a lot more to continue offering.
“The best thing we can leave behind is our spirituality,” he said. “If we can do that, it can be woven into the culture of North America and culture changes everything.
“It’s actually looking into that spirituality. When people see things, they’ll see it in their own way. And that’s the way it should be. If you work within the language of it, the best thing is to communicate with that observer. The most important person at that moment is the person looking at it.
“What I intend to do is bring them to that door and they can open that door and see this world themselves through their own eyes and they become the artist.”
Seeing is truly believing with this exhibit.
“Art has been very kind to me,” said IceBear. “I’ve been very, very fortunate. And I’ve always gone against the grain.”
But if his work helps even one person to heal an injured spirit or make some life changes to expand understanding and respect, it will be worth it to him.