• Feature

Joe Tallirunili

Inuit Art Icons in Comics

Jul 08, 2020
by Napatsi Folger

Joe Talirunili’s carvings—famously known as “Joe Boats”—are some of the most recognizable sculptures world-wide. His carving Migration Boat set records when it sold for $408,000 in 2019, taking the title of highest price ever reached at auction by an Inuk artist from another of Talirunili’s pieces, “The Migration,” which had held the record since 2012 at $290,000. Although the images we see in Talirunili's art are world famous today, he was creating stories with his carvings and drawings when Inuit voices and language were actively suppressed, bringing us a view of Puvirnituq, Nunavik, QC, through his eyes. 

We tend to look at Inuit art covering stories of the past, be they magical shaman stories, or natural hunting imagery set in a traditional past. What I love about Talirunili’s work is that he was able to capture the presence of the moment in his work. Even viewing it on my computer in 2020, I feel transported to the times and places he has put into stone or onto paper in his prints. When I see his carvings of people in boats I don’t just see a boat with some seafarers carved out of stone, I can feel the motion of their paddling, and the cold arctic wind on their faces. 

Talirunili, along with his cousin Davidialuk Alasua Amittu,were two of the founding members of the Puvirnituq print shop. They were also dedicated to the naturalism that defines the art of Puvirnituq. I chose to paint an all encompassing scene in watercolour, featuring a variety of Talirunili’s carvings and one print (the walrus) to try and emulate the broader sense of nature I get whenever I see the single-subject carvings that he is famous for. He was adept at giving his audience a wider sense of the world around him with single subject pieces in his carvings. His sense of movement and action brings life to inanimate stone and I wanted to try to capture in my comic what he was able to do with individual carvings.  


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