Derrick Pottle’s love of carving began at a young age when he would make toys for himself as a child, coaxing wood into images of animals, figures and boats . This childhood pastime naturally developed into an art practice when he was older . Born in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, NL, Pottle faced the challenges of many artists in the area, such as access to materials and adequate studios to create work .
It was in working with stone that his relationship to carving flourished , allowing him to expand his practice and refine his skills. Pottle’s relationship to the land, in maintaining a traditional lifestyle of fishing and hunting, influences his art practice. He is able to obtain materials such as hide and bone, and he carves his interactions with animals from memory . Rather than working from images such as photographs, or journals or books, Pottle’s images reside as memories from his time on the land, transferring to an immediacy of time in his sculptural work.
In Kayak Hunter (2015), Pottle positions three figures along a winding piece of antler. While realistic scale is not considered in the piece, the careful attention to detail in the small figures of polar bear, seal and hunter in a kayak are delicately carved. The polar bear is carved from ivory, the muscle evident in the stance of the bear, as it faces the action between the seal and hunter as if in the distance, a calm observer to the tension of the other two. The seal, made of black steatite (soapstone), is caught mid-motion in an attempted jump from the edge of the antler into the open expanse of the sea. Its front flippers are brought together in tension under its body, straining forward, and it uses its tail to propel itself forward, away from land and into water. The head extends outward, toward the unseen distance of the water that is implied by the sculpture. The hunter’s attention is solely focused on the seal, arms raised and laden with spear and rope, biding time for the perfect moment to strike. The tension is palpable in the positioning of the figures and the imagined landscape, at once invisible and implied. The hunter’s kayak is carved of dark stone to visually connect it to the seal, whereas the white fur of his hood is linked to the polar bear in colour, with all three figures connected through the land depicted by the antler. Keeping the natural curve of the antler, Pottle uses the material to depict landscape in a way that draws attention to the physical materials of the sculpture at the same time that it activates a viewer’s imagination.
Derrick Pottle served on the Inuit Art Quarterly’s Editorial Advisory Council from 2004 to 2005. His long artistic career has benefitted from his continued commitment to the land and in keeping cultural traditions and knowledge alive .