From there, Mr. Pootoogook seemed to move from strength to strength, triumph to triumph: three works in the acclaimed Inuit Modern exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2011; a dual show with Newfoundland’s Tim Zuck at the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie in 2012; a solo exhibition, the first for an Inuit artist, at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery in 2013; inclusion that same year in Sakahàn, the National Gallery of Canada’s acclaimed exhibition of international indigenous art; entry into the permanent collections of the AGO, the NGC, Bank of Montreal and Toronto Dominion Bank.
And all the while the art “just got better and better and better,” Mr. Kardosh says. Back in Cape Dorset, Mr. Ritchie would throw new challenges at Mr. Pootoogook: Let’s go large format! How about working on a long, skinny piece of paper? Want to use blue paper? Black? Green?
“In the old days, a lot of people in Dorset thought of art as welfare: Do a drawing; get paid,” Mr. Ritchie observes. Luckily, Mr. Pootoogook came of age when Ms. Ashevak and Kananginak Pootoogook were deemed to be artists, “really big people in the local community” with clout in southern art circles. As a result, “he took it seriously. He really liked to push himself, to force himself, to try to get really involved in the images. Look at his work, it shows.”
Curator Candice Hopkins, one of the organizers of last year’s Sakahàn exhibition, says what “immediately struck” her about her initial encounter with Mr. Pootoogook’s drawings “was their stillness, as though paradoxically, through the studied and meticulous process of pencil-drawing, he had managed to capture an instant. What Itee introduces to the rich history of Inuit art is something of the truth of photography, of the documentary image, and what it reveals of Northern life now.”
“What really gets me,” a sombre Mr. Ritchie says, “is how just in the last few years of Itee’s life, after being ignored, he knew he was on to something. These lifelong skills were finally paying off and now they were being taken away from him.”
Much of what those skills produced, though, seems likely to endure. This summer the AGO is hosting an Alex Colville retrospective and, to illustrate Mr. Colville’s continuing resonance, the show’s curator, Andrew Hunter, intends to pair selected Colville works with those of other artists. An as-yet unselected Itee Pootoogook drawing will be part of the exercise.
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