Capturing the Memory of Innocence

In the quiet foyer of the Yukon Arts Centre, Catherine Deer says she’s not the best at interviews.

But she hits a confident stride fast as she begins to discuss the innocent history behind her exhibit, Drawn To Memory.

Her large-scale lifelike charcoal drawings, currently displayed in the main gallery, devour each wall. Each intricately crafted image is a page out of her personal storybook.

“Children remember a lot more than you think,” she says. “The memories I have from that time were more flashes of images that I have in my head that were fleshed out and given substance over the years through family stories, through my father’s incredible photograph collection.

“It was a huge part of my psyche, a huge part of my life. And this show is sort of that culmination of those memories, those ideas, those stories. It was something that I really felt the need to say, to speak about, to share – sort of like an exorcism.”

When she was only about a month old, Deer says her family moved to Baker Lake and stayed for three and a half years. The exhibit focuses on those surroundings from the majestic animals and people, to the blankets of white snow.

Precision and proportion are delicately accounted for in each piece. Even a youthful touch is playfully incorporated. One drawing includes large snowflakes reminiscent of those children cut out with folded paper.

“I wanted to draw images that didn’t matter where you were or where you came from … kids could relate to … people could relate to,” she says. “Because who didn’t cut or draw snowflakes in school?”

Art became a part of Deer’s life at a very early age. She experimented with many materials, but says her love for drawing in graphite and charcoal agrees with her artistic ambitions.

“I think it’s the control it gives me and my style. I like to do a lot of detail and I like to be able to express myself with the charcoal because it affords me that ability to control the medium and to get the detail that I want to get.”

Through using the graphite and charcoal, Deer says it enables her to achieve a sort of “old photograph style”.

Two pieces in the show also include bold colour, which provides a strong contrast with the soft black and white details.

Precision and proportion are delicately and accurately conveyed in each piece. While they are labour intensive, she says it’s a fluid creation process for her to capture that realism.

“When it comes time to do a piece, it’s like I’ve drawn it already in my head,” she says. “It’s just transferring that through my hand and getting it onto the paper.”

The premeditation makes sense, considering the subject matter is rooted in history. However, she says she’s never explored it in her artwork before.

“It’s almost like a birthing, the show. This is the start,” she explains. “And it’s very appropriate that it’s of my childhood … when you first start having impressions of where you are, who you are, your relationship to things.”

PHOTO: MORGAN WHIBLEY [email protected]

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