Alex Janvier

Alex Simeon Janvier, painter (born 28 Feb 1935 in Le Goff Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, near Bonnyville, AB).
Alex Simeon Janvier, painter (born 28 Feb 1935 in Le Goff Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, near Bonnyville, AB).

True West, The

Alex Simeon Janvier, CM, painter (born 28 Feb 1935 in Le Goff Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, near Bonnyville, AB). Recipient of the Governor General's Award and a Member of the Order of Canada, Alex Janvier is often referred to as the first Aboriginal modernist artist in Canada. His work is in major museum collections throughout Canada such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Education and Early Career

Born of Denesuline and Saulteaux descent, Alex Janvier remained at home until he was eight, at which point he was sent to the Blue Quills Indian Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. It was at Blue Quills that he made his first paintings. He graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary in 1960 and immediately became an instructor at the University of Alberta.

In 1966, Janvier was commissioned to create 80 paintings by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. He helped bring together Aboriginal artists such as Norval Morrisseau and Bill Reid for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, where he contributed a mural. Janvier’s style is abstract and decidedly modernist (he has been called Canada’s first Indigenous modernist), and his blazing palette and radiating forms reflect the spiritual traditions of his Denesuline and Saulteaux ancestors.

Janvier returned to Alberta in 1968 to teach adult classes at the Saddle Lake Indian School near St. Paul and Alberta Newstart Inc. in Fort Chipewyan. Late in 1971 he decided to paint full-time. In 1973, he was a founding member of the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. (Winnipeg), a group of seven First Nations artists seeking to market their own work. They are often referred to as the Indian Group of Seven.

Mature Work

Alex Janvier's abstract linear work is characterized by whiplashing pools of colour on negative space. In 1976, he painted a mural for the Muttart Conservatory (Edmonton) and for the County of Strathcona Building (Sherwood Park, AB). Janvier was invited to Sweden in 1977 to paint and exhibit. He did The Seasons for the National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of History) in 1978–81 and a mural for the 1983 World University Games (Edmonton). In 1987, his work was included in two major shows in California. He was featured in a group exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1992 entitled Land, Spirit, Power, and was the subject of a travelling one-person exhibition, The Art of Alex Janvier: His First Thirty Years (1960–1990), organized by the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in 1993.

In 1993, Janvier completed his largest mural to date, entitled Morning Star, on the dome of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History), Gatineau, Québec. The immense mural spans 418 , its title referring to the morning star as a way of finding one’s direction. Morning Star is organized around two concentric circles inside of which is a starburst of colour that fans out into four spaces — yellow, blue, red, and white. Filled with drifting, organic forms, these spaces are symbolic of different phases of Aboriginal history. The yellow refers to pre-contact harmony with nature and the Great Spirit, the blue signifies a period when Aboriginal culture was overwhelmed by European culture, the red depicts revival, and the white returns to the centre of the morning star and the return to a state of harmony.

In March 2015, Janvier received a $700,000 commission to create a circular tile floor mosaic for the Winter Garden of the Rogers Place arena in Edmonton, Alberta.

Alex Janvier and his family opened a gallery in Cold Lake, Alberta, in 2003, and in 2008 he was awarded a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

Interested in the arts?

First Nations Collection

Indigenous Peoples Collection

Further Reading

  • Lee-Ann Martin, The Art of Alex Janvier: The First Thirty Years (1960-1990), Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1993.