Strange coloured mountains, always with a coastline, fantastic birds and winged creatures directly from Wonderland, these are some of the things that populate the drawings of Ooloosie Saila, one of the most original young artists working in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, today.
Saila began drawing in 2015, with her work gaining an almost immediate, enthusiastic following in the South. She counts Kenojuak Ashevak, CC, ON, RCA (1927–2013) as an important influence and fondly remembers watching the iconic artist making drawings in her home. Like Ashevak and her grandmother Pitaloosie Saila, RCA, Ooloosie Saila draws distinctive birds with a style uniquely her own. Owls with yellow eyes, as wide and as bright as headlights, and geese with long crooked necks reappear frequently across her work; all are rendered with sharp talons and spiky feathers. There is tremendous charm and comedy to these creatures, who sometimes sport eyebrows and moustaches that imbue them with a distinctive personality. In 2017 Saila’s first print was released in the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection. Ornamental Owl, a whimsical stonecut in sunflower yellow and inky black, features a bird, densely decorated with squiggles, stripes and dots, that is part owl, part bumblebee and maybe even part octopus. The print was an instant stand out in the collection and quickly sold out. Hundreds of prints from Kinngait have depicted birds, but few are as memorable or as humorous as Saila’s Ornamental Owl.
Ooloosie Saila, Composition (Three Birds), 2016, coloured pencil and ink, 137.1 × 127 cm
What world could these strange birds inhabit? Certainly they would find their home in Saila’s otherworldly landscapes. Though Saila depicts the mountains and rock formations found in and around Kinngait, they are rendered fantastically with bulbous hills, undulating shorelines and puffy clouds. Her landforms are speckled with rocks, snow and vegetation, all in bold blocks and stripes of colour. Saila loves colour. Her drawings are filled with sumptuous reds and oranges, vibrant blues and teals, earthy browns and warm yellows. She also favours a bold, dark application of coloured pencil over shading or blending. Her use of colour-blocking and preference for flat compositions gives her work the impression of a patchwork quilt or a work by American modernist painter Milton Avery: bold, graphic and whimsical.
Saila’s drawings have no straight lines. Her forms swell and pulse like the very environments by which she is inspired. In a community where many artists have embraced photography as an important part of their drawing practice, Saila has refused and instead embraces her own imagination, and the imprecision that comes with it. She begins her drawings with a pencil outline, which is then traced over with a fineliner and finally flooded with coloured pencil. Recently, she has been working on large format works that are well suited to her lush drawings of the expansive arctic landscape.
Despite her relatively recent foray into drawing, Ooloosie’s work was included in the Imago Mundi exhibition and publication Inuit: Land of Arctic Ice (2017) and has been collected by the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Saila will also soon be the subject of a solo exhibition at Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto, ON, where we anticipate her imaginative works and discernible style will continue to surprise and enchant their audiences.
Ooloosie Saila, Landscape with Rainbow, 2016, coloured pencil and ink, 64.8 × 127 cm
This is Profile appeared the Summer 2018 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.