Community Watch: Bob Boyer

Bob Boyer, Going to Denver Pow-Wow We Crossed a Starry Sky, 1991, oil over acrylic on cotton blanket. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, gift of John and Monica Kurtz in Memory of James Kurtz.

2 March 2022

As the title suggests, this abstract painting on blanket by Bob Boyer was inspired by a drive to Denver for a powwow. While winding through the Black Hills—a mountain range located between South Dakota and Wyoming—the artist encountered fog. As Boyer was ascending to the top of the hills, the fog slowly retreated under him, revealing a sky full of stars, some of which seemed to almost touch the top of his head. In this work, viewers see how Boyer captured this profound experience with an intricate composition of shapes and colours.

Boyer’s painted blankets and canvasses are informed equally by the cultural motifs of his Indigenous heritage and the Western tradition of painting. Formally, viewers can see a central cross within a diamond within a cross framed by pairs of triangles in the top and bottom registers on the blanket. The background is filled with moss green and hazy purple, providing a strong contrast to the bright highlights and intense colours used inside the geometric shapes.

The subjects in Boyer’s work are often personal, drawing on his own life stories. Memories of travel, dancing, conversations, and late nights on the powwow trail inspired much of Boyer’s art. For Boyer, the interrelationships of the celestial, the worldly, the human, and the physical were gifts from the spiritual world. In the final decade of his life, his work would blend these interrelationships in a way that was seamless, while remaining as intriguing and complex as the artist himself.

Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1948, Bob Boyer studied art at the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina campus under pioneer Canadian modernist painters, such as Douglas Morton and Ted Godwin. After graduating, in 1970, Boyer worked as a community program officer and as an art and drama teacher, before becoming departmental head and Associate Professor in Indian Art History at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. Throughout his career, Boyer was an influential artist, and his work continues to inspire generations of Indigenous talents in Canada.

Tak Pham