It (the art) came from his mind and was complete, a complete transfer from mind to stone.”
(Samisa Ivilla in an interview with Marybelle Myers [Mitchell], 1985)
A leader in his community, Charlie Sivuarapik was one of Puvirnituq’s most celebrated artists. Born in 1911, Sivuarapik settled in the newly established village of Puvirnituq in the early 1950s, where he lived until his death in 1968.
Although undocumented, it is highly probable that Sivuarapik was, in part, encouraged to carve by James Houston during one of his trips to Puvirnituq between 1948 and 1950. Suffering from the recurrent symptoms of tuberculosis, Sivuarapik was particularly motivated to produce artwork as a means to support his family.
While Sivuarapik worked closely with many of the non-Inuit champions of the artform throughout his career (Peter Murdoch, Father André Steinman, et al.), the influence of fellow artists such as, Johnny Pov, Isa Qoperqualuk, and Samisa Ivilla should not be overlooked. In a 1985 interview with Marybelle Myers (Mitchell), Peter Murdoch explains the Puvirnituq system of evaluating sculpture and its effect on subsequent production:
When the camp came in, everybody would come in together and sit on the floor. Everybody’s carving would be looked at by everybody else and that group would say whether or not it was better [than the artist’s previous work]. But they were not only interested in their own carvings; they were also interested in what other camps were doing with their carvings. We had shelves there [at the HBC trading post] with carvings from everyone on display, so they could see not only whether they were improving, but also what other people were doing. The would see a real nice carving and they would ask, “Who made that one? Whose carving is that?” It did get to be very competitive in a way. (1994: 53).
Sculpture, drawings, prints.
Wildlife, birds, hunters, legends.
Credited by George Swinton as “the most significant influence in the development of Pov naturalism” (Swinton 1977:23), Sivuarapik’s work was also greatly admired by his contemporaries for its qualities of sulijuk — a Nunavamiut concept that expresses the idea of completeness (Mitchell 1998: 8). A stickler for accuracy, he often studied his own anatomy to obtain a more precise sense of proportion and shape, which translated into highly realistic carvings.
A founding member of the Carvers Association of Povungnituk and President of the Povungnituk Co-operative Society from its inception to the year before his death, Sivuarapik served as a role model to his community. The first Inuk to become a member of the Sculpture Society of Canada, his renowned sculptures are included in prominent public collections such as those at the National Gallery of Canada, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Working primarily in ivory in the early 1950s, Sivuarapik often carved otters at the onset of his artistic career. By 1953, however, when the artist began to carve in stone more frequently, the human form had begun to appear regularly in his work. Imbued with realistic, expressive facial features and captured mid-activity, his work took on a much more demonstrative quality. Hunters are depicted with knives and harpoons at the ready, or hauling their catch towards camp. These decidedly more complex works, which often feature the addition of secondary materials, are also noteworthy in their inclusion of multiple subjects (Man Carrying a Caribou, Hunter with Walrus, etc). In the mid 1950s, Sivuarapik’s work also grew in size, from the small, hand-held ivories typical at the beginning of his career to larger, weightier pieces in stone.
By 1955, Sivuarapik’s work became noticeably more dynamic as a result of a more complex use of negative space in and around the individual elements of his subjects — a skill that attests to his ever-developing proficiency as a carver. As Sivuarapik’s adeptness increased, so too did his productivity. The late 1950s were an especially prolific time for the artist when, in addition to his customary portrayals of wildlife and hunting scenes, Sivuarapik began to tackle legends as subject matter. Unlike many of his peers, who were producing highly fantastical depictions of age-old myths, Sivuarapik portrayed individualized scenes from particular stories in a very realistic manner. In one series, the Legend of the Giant and the Fog, Sivuarapik produced an entire set of sculptures depicting different aspects of the same myth.
One of the first Puvirnituq artists to be recognized outside of his community, Sivuarapik was the subject of an article by Peter Murdoch in Beaver magazine in 1956.He was also featured in a photo essay by Richard Harrington, which was published in the Canadian Geographical Journal in 1959. Sivuarapik, well travelled for an artist of his generation, accompanied local missionary, Father André Steinman, on a marketing trip to Cleveland and New York in 1958.
1994 “Fivecentsiapik: The Little Five Cents,” Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 9, no. 3 (Fall): 51–57.
1998 “Making Art in Nunavik: A Brief Historical Overview,” Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 13, no. 3 (Fall): 4–17.
1997 “The People of Povungnituk, Independent Through Common Effort,” Povungnituk (catalogue): 7–18. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery.
1975 Povungnituk 1975 Prints (catalogue). Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.
1977 “The Povungnituk Paradox: Typically untypical art,” Povungnituk (catalogue): 21–24. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery.
2006 Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture 1949–1955. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery.