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How is Inuk Artist Logan Ruben like Vincent van Gogh?

Mar 17, 2021
by Emily Henderson

How do you hold a place in your memory? This question inspired artist Logan Ruben when he moved six years ago from his home community of Paulatuk, Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT, to Cranbrook, BC, where he currently resides with his family. Since then, he has continued to explore not only his evolving relationship to his homelands but also his relationship to colour. A self-taught painter and experimental sculptor, Ruben primarily focuses on the landscapes and vistas that he remembers fondly from home, all translated to wood and canvas through vivid colour palettes and brush strokes inspired by impressionist painters like Vincent van Gogh and calling to mind the work of contemporary Indigenous artists, including Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. 

“I’ve always been enamoured with colour,” he explains. “My work is as much an exploration of colour and texture as it is of memory. With my landscapes, I often think back to the feeling of very specific campsites and I begin to create from there.” 

Working from his studio in the East Kootenays, Ruben creates paintings that are complete products of his own labour and imagination, from the very stretching of the canvas, to the completion of the image. He frequently constructs his own canvases, and his work comes to life in custom dimensions of his own design, with some of his panels reaching widths of up to 96 inches. One part art form, one part COVID-era adaptation to accessible painting supplies, Ruben is continually inventive with the frames on which he creates. 


Logan Ruben
Untitled (Lake Campsite) (2019)

“Even Da Vinci had to build his own canvases sometimes,” he jokes.

On one such mammoth, a 96-inch canvas, he has painted an untitled vast expanse of Egg Island in the Northwest Territories, shown from an aerial view. Depicted in a hazy green and floating in the deep blue of the sea, his family’s encampment where he spent summers hunting and fishing is lovingly remembered along one of the shorelines. 

While many of his paintings are soft and organic, others play with geometric lines and expressive colours not typically found in nature. He links the geometric worlds evoked in these paintings with a quilt of fragmented memories—some patches his own and some derived from family photos and pictures recently shared by friends online. His painting Untitled (Campsite) (2019) best exemplifies these explorations of communal memory. In it, a single view of a favourite campsite is brought to life on a diamond-shaped canvas, refracted by vistas of the same locale observed in many different seasons, which play out through each section of the image. In the very centre, an ice floe adrift beneath the northern lights appears to take the form of an ulu, all of which suggest an assemblage of distinct, but shared, perspectives of place. 


Logan Ruben
Untitled (Mountain Landscape) (2019) Acrylic on canvas 121.9 x 60.9 cm

At once a way to cope with homesickness and to record stories about his homelands to pass on to his young family while living away from the land, Ruben also turns his eye to the lands he currently finds himself on, taking trips to paint the vistas of British Columbia. Mountains rise out of colour-saturated landscapes, while tangled trees dance across handcrafted canvases. In one image, Untitled (Mountain Landscape) (2019), an impossible landscape is forged in brilliant pinks, reds and blues, with a river and skeleton of a tree cutting across the foreground and mint clouds billowing in the light of the full moon.

While the land represents Ruben’s preferred subject matter, his infatuation with colour and expressive style also translates well into portraiture. In one haunting portrait, Untitled (Portrait) (2019), a long, gaunt face gazes out from what could be the hood of a parka, eyes peering about suspiciously. This figure appears to be listening to his environment attentively while wrapped in his garment, which appears almost translucent, exposing the bones of his ribcage in reds and purples that pop against the green of the background. 

Ever evolving and uniquely his own creation from start to finish, Ruben’s work delights the senses and toys with primary colours. Branching out from his acrylic works, he has recently begun to explore sculpture crafted in pure, white clay. While his work continues to develop, the motivation behind his creative process remains constant. 

“I would like to explore the many identities amongst Inuit across the globe and try to find a common ground for us all to relate to,” he explains. “Whether it be our love for the land, the animals that sustain us, or the stories and traditions that have been passed down through generations of survival.” 

This Profile was made possible through support from the RBC Foundation’s Emerging Artists Project.

This Profile was first published in the Winter 2020 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.

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