Watercolor original on paper
Alex Janvier was born on Le Goff Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, northern Alberta, on February 28, 1935, of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent. At the age of eight, he was sent to the Blue Quills Indian residential school near St. Paul, Alberta, where the principal recognized his innate artistic talent and encouraged him in his art. Alex Janvier received formal art training from the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary (now the Alberta University of the Arts) and graduated with honors in 1960. He was one of the first Canadian First Nations artists to train in a professional art school. Immediately after graduation, Janvier took up an opportunity to instruct art at the University of Alberta. In 1966, the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs commissioned him to produce 80 paintings. He helped bring together a group of artists for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, among them Norval Morrisseau and Bill Reid. Janvier currently runs Janvier Gallery in Cold Lake, Alberta, with his family. In 2016 a retrospective exhibition of his work opened at the National Gallery of Canada. Also, in 2016 Janvier’s large mosaic Tsa Tsa Ke Kʼe (Iron Foot Place) was installed at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Alex Janvier, the ‘first Canadian native modernist, has created a unique style of modernist abstraction. His own “visual language,” informed by the rich cultural and spiritual traditions and heritage of the Dene in northern Alberta. His abstract style is particularly suited to large-scale works. He makes magic arts and three-dimensional works. Two of his stylistic influences among Western artists are Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, while among Native traditions he is particularly inspired by the abstract patterns of traditional hide-painting, beadwork, and quillwork.
Alex Janvier signed his paintings with his treaty number from 1966 to 1977 to protest government policies against Aboriginal people. He also makes references to treaty language in the “ironic and allusive” titles of his art, such as “Sun Shines, Grass Grows, Rivers Flow”, grounding his abstract art in political conflicts.