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 Karoo Ashevak  (1940 - 1974)

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Lived/Active: Northwest Territories/Nunavut / Canada      Known for: Inuit whalebone sculpture, carving

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Karoo Ashevak (1940 – 1974) (1) (2)
“... one of the first Inuit artists to deviate significantly from the “traditional” model of Inuit art.” (3)

An important Canadian sculptor, Karoo Ashevak was born near Taloyoak, Nunavut (then Spence Bay, Northwest Territories) and died in a house fire in Taloyoak. His life, work and legacy are discussed in most books on Inuit art. His carvings have been included in numerous landmark exhibitions and they’re prized acquisitions in prominent public and private collections.

“Karoo Ashevak is regarded as a leading proponent of whalebone* sculpture, whose modern sensibility, technical craftsmanship, and legendary personality made him among the most respected and popular of Inuit artists.... his work was to have a profound influence on the sculptural style of the Kitikmeot region.” – National Gallery of Canada (4)

Ashevak’s primary medium was fossilized whalebone; his works were often composed of several pieces and detailed with stone, walrus ivory, antler or baleen. His subjects were human figures, faces, shamans, symbolism, spirituality, mythology, allegory*, whimsy, fantasy, dreams, humor, arctic wildlife, and social commentary. Unlike traditional Inuit carvers whose style is usually described as Primitive Art*, Ashevak was a Modernist* and his style is frequently described as Expressionism*, it could also be described as Fauvism* and Surrealism*; the AskART images are good illustrations. (5)

Ashevak spent most of his life as a nomadic Inuit – hunting. His carving career began in 1968 when he settled in Taloyoak and took a government sponsored arts and crafts program. His talent was recognized almost immediately, and although his career was brief it was very prolific and he enjoyed considerable fame.

During his life and posthumously, Ashevak’s carvings were included in numerous major exhibitions, such as “Eskimo Fantastic Art”, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg [and touring] (1972); “Cultures of the Sun and the Snow: Indian and Eskimo Art of the Americas”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec (1973); “White Sculpture of the Inuit”, Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, Burnaby, B.C. (1977); “The Coming and Going of the Shaman: Eskimo Shamanism and Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1978); “Inuit Art in the 1970s”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario (1979); “Whalebone Carvings and Inuit Prints”, Memorial University of Newfoundland Art Gallery, St. John's (1980); “Inuit Masterworks”, McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario (1983); “Uumajut: Animal Imagery in Inuit Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1985); “Contemporary Inuit Art”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1986); “In the Shadow of the Sun: Contemporary Indian and Inuit Art in Canada”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1988); “Building on Strengths: New Inuit Art from the Collection”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1988); “Arctic Mirror”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1990); “Inuit Art From the Glenbow Collection”, Glenbow Museum, Calgary (1990); “Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948 – 1970”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1999); and in “Carving and Identity: Inuit Sculpture from the Permanent Collection”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1999 – 2000).
 
His works have also been featured in numerous exhibitions of important private and corporate collections including “Sculpture of the Inuit: Lorne Balshine Collection/Lou Osipov Collection/ Dr. Harry Winrob Collection”, Surrey Art Gallery, B.C. (1979); “Rothmans' Collection of Inuit Sculpture”, Kitchener - Waterloo Art Gallery, Waterloo, Ontario (1979); “Inuit Art: A Selection of Inuit Art from the Collection of the National Museum of Man, Ottawa, and the Rothmans Permanent Collection of Inuit Sculpture, Canada”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1981); “Grasp Tight the Old Ways: Selections from the Klamer Family Collection of Inuit Art”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1983); “Stones, Bones, Cloth, and Paper: Inuit Art in Edmonton Collections”, Edmonton Art Gallery, Alberta (1984); “Selections from the John and Mary Robertson Collection of Inuit Art”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre Kingston, Ontario (1986 and touring until 1988); “The Jerry Twomey Collection at the Winnipeg Art Gallery: Inuit Sculpture from the Canadian Arctic”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (2003 – 2004); “Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum”, Heard Museum, Phoenix (touring the USA 2006 – 2011); and “Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection”, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2011)

Currently, his works are included in “The Stafford Collection of Inuit Sculpture” showing at the Winnipeg Art Gallery from August 25, 2012 to January 25, 2013. His works will also to be featured in “Creation & Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art” which will open at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on January 25, 2013 and be exhibited until April 14, 2013.

His major solo exhibitions were “Karoo Ashevak: Spirits”, at the American Indian Arts Centre, New York City (1973); “Karoo Ashevak”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1977); and “Transcending the Specifics of Inuit Heritage: Karoo in Ottawa”, at the National Gallery of Canada (1994).

His works have also frequently been included in solo and group exhibitions at prominent commercial galleries such as Franz Bader Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Lippel Gallery, Montreal; Upstairs Gallery, Winnipeg; Canadiana Galleries, Edmonton; Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, B.C.; Isaacs/Inuit Gallery, Toronto; and Koffler Gallery, Toronto.

Ashevak’s works are avidly collected, they’re frequently traded on the auction market, and they’re in several important corporate and museum collections.

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, his works are in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta), Heard Museum (Phoenix, Arizona), McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec), Museum of Anthropology (University of British Columbia, Vancouver), Museum of Inuit Art (Toronto, Ontario), Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (Yellowknife, Northwest Territories), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta), Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba) and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa). They’re also in the Lorne Balshine Inuit Art Collection on display at Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver, B.C.; and in the TD Gallery of Inuit Art at the Toronto-Dominion Centre, Toronto, Ontario. (6)
 

Footnotes:
(1) Please note: While all of our sources refer to this artist as Karoo Ashevak, and we have found none that use any other name, some of our sources say there are a few other names by which he’s known, they are Ashivak Karruq (Museum of Inuit Art) and Mungnelli (Canadian Heritage Information Network*).

(2) Please note: Karoo Ashevak’s works are occasionally noted by collectors as ‘signed in syllabics*’, however he may, like many Inuit artists, have also used his Canadian government issued Inuit Disc Number* which is E4196. Sources: Canadian Heritage Information Network* (museum records) and Katilvik.com.

(3) The whole sentence: “Karoo Ashevak had a short but productive career and was one of the first Inuit artists to deviate significantly from the “traditional” model of Inuit art.” Source: Page 353, Inuit Art: A History (see AskART book references).

(4) Quote source: Page 28, Touching Canadians: National Gallery of Canada, 2002 – 2003 Annual Report (see AskART book references). Note: Located in northern Canada, the Kitikmeot region has a population of about 5,500 people and a land area of 172,482.53 square miles (about 5% of Canada’s land area). Source: Statistics Canada.

(5) Please note: “To be carved, whalebone must be fossilized. New whalebone leaks oil and will break if carved, so it must be aged at least 75 years before an artist works with it. Whalebone is abundant in the Arctic thanks to centuries of whaling, both by Inuit, their ancestors the Thule and non-Aboriginal people.” Source: Alysa Procida, Educational Coordinator, Museum of Inuit Art, Toronto.

(6) Please note: The Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas is listed by “Contemporary Canadian Artists” (see AskART book references) as a collector of Karoo Ashevak’s work, there is no reason to doubt that, but it could not be independently verified on the museum’s website. MDS
 
Sources:

Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection (2011), edited by Gerald McMaster (see AskART book references)

The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century (2010), by Brian Foss, Anne Whitelaw, Sandra Paikowsky (see AskART book references)

Canadian Art: From its Beginnings to 2000 (2002), by Anne Newlands (see AskART book references)

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)

Touching Canadians: National Gallery of Canada, 2002 – 2003 Annual Report (2003), National Gallery of Canada (see AskART book references)

Inuit Art: A History (2000), by Richard C. Crandall (see AskART book references)

Celebrating Inuit Art: 1948 – 1970 (1999), edited by Maria Von Finckenstein (see AskART book references)

Contemporary Canadian Artists (1997), edited by Robert Lang (see AskART book references)

In the Shadow of the Sun: Perspectives on Contemporary Native Art (1993), edited and published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization (see AskART book references)

The Inuit Imagination: Arctic Myth and Sculpture (1993), by Harold Seidelman and James Turner (see AskART book references)

Biographies of Inuit Artists (1993), compiled and published by the Inuit Art Section, Indian and Northern Affairs (see AskART book references)

Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)

Art Gallery of Ontario – Selected Works (1990), by William J. Withrow, et al (see AskART book references)

The Canadian Encyclopedia” Second Edition (1988), edited by James H. Marsh (see AskART book references)

Inuit art: An Anthology (1988), by Alma Houston, et al (see AskART book references)

“Inuit Art Section: Catalogue of Services and Collections” (1984), Research and Documentation Centre on Inuit Art (see AskART book references)

Visions – Contemporary Art in Canada (1983), edited by Robert Bringhurst, et al (see AskART book references)

Landmarks of Canadian Art (1978), by Peter Mellen (see AskART book references)

Karoo Ashevak (1977), Jean Blodgett (see AskART book references)

Karoo Ashevak: Spirits – Fifteen Whalebone Carvings (1973), by Judy McGrath (see AskART book references)

Sculpture of the Eskimo (1972), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)

Canadian Heritage Information Network* (biography, museums)

Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art* (biography, illustrations)

National Gallery of Canada (library and exhibitions records)

Art Gallery of Ontario (book and catalogue summaries online)

Katilvik.com (biography, exhibitions)

Simon Fraser University (library records)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com. Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx.

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.
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