Red Scarves, Street People and Polluted Rain (1988) located in CB 201.9, next to stairs (College Avenue 2nd Floor)
It’s always about the rain (n.d.) located in CB 201.6, elevator lobby (College Avenue 2nd Floor)
Red Scarves, Street People and Polluted Rain, 1988
Oil over acrylic on linen canvas
72″ x 84″
University of Regina President’s Art Collection; pc.2017.43
It’s always about the rain, n.d.
Oil on canvas
17 7/8″ x 24″
Gift of Dr. Morris C. Shumiatcher, O.C., S.O.M., Q.C. and Dr. Jacqui Clay Shumiatcher, S.O.M., C.M., 2019; sc.2019.02
Métis artist, arts administrator, educator and curator, Bob Boyer (1948-2004), was a significant figure within Turtle Island’s Indigenous cultural renaissance beginning in the 1970s. His well-known Blanket Statements series exemplify his expression of traditional First Nations design and symbology, historical events, international politics, contemporary culture and modernist painterly abstraction. These works express Boyer’s cultural heritage and reference Northern Sioux beadwork in particular, continuing a lineage of painting and design work that precedes colonization.
Boyer was born in St. Louis, Saskatchewan, and grew up in Prince Albert. He had a creative childhood, learning traditional Sioux and Plains Cree quilting, sewing and beading at home. He also acknowledged the influence of Sioux/ Assiniboine cosmology within his artistic practice. Boyer received a Bachelor of Education (Art) degree from the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus, in 1971 (now the University of Regina). During his student days he was introduced to the modernist painting of the Regina Five. Doug Morton and Ted Godwin are cited as potential influences on Boyer’s abstract style, as were Ernest Lindner and Allen Sapp. In addition to art, community and education roles, he maintained relationships with institutions affiliated with the University of Regina throughout his career. At the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Boyer made an impact as a community program officer and curator, and later became Assistant Professor and then Head of the Department of Indian Fine Arts at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada). Red Scarves, Street People and Polluted Rain (1988) and It’s always about the rain (n.d.) are both displayed on the former site of the MacKenzie Art Gallery.
As their ambiguous title suggests, Boyer’s Blanket Statements are rich with multiple, witty meanings. Some works from the series, including the first Boyer ever produced, were colourful geometric designs painted directly onto blankets. The use of this textile is a nod to the smallpox-infected blankets traded and gifted to Indigenous peoples by colonists. The artist also enjoyed the tactility of the finished blankets, stiff with paint, that felt similar to hide. Works also reference the domestic craft of quilting, a means to honour the strong female presence of Boyer’s upbringing. Elements of institutional critique that challenge artworld and museum conventions that have historically underserved Indigenous artists can also be found in the use of this “difficult” and unorthodox canvas.
Many designs riff on painted tepee liners or the parfleche, rawhide bags or containers produced by Plains peoples with decorative quillwork or painted patterning. Red Scarves, Street People and Polluted Rain (1988) is painted on linen canvas and shares a similar visual language to other works in the Blanket Statements series. The subject of contaminated water, acid rain and their environmental affects appeared in several of Boyer’s works. Access to clean water for Indigenous peoples remains a major concern today. This demonstrates that Boyer’s work remains extremely culturally and politically relevant, despite being over thirty years old.
A dynamic and symmetrical composition of triangles, diamonds and bars in contemporary pinks, purples and turquoise is seen in Red Scarves, Street People and Polluted Rain. Boyer also employed the use of numerology, favouring the numbers three, seven and nine as “universal symbols”. The three-stepped, serrated “cut-outs” in both Red Scarves, Street People and Polluted Rain and It’s always about the rain may reference “three steps toward enlightenment” (Pritchard, p73). A serrated edge echoes a Sioux beadwork tradition. In her 1940 book, Quill and Beadwork of the Western Sioux, Carrie Lyford is careful to point out that symbology in colour and design is often specific to the artist, rather than depicting a narrative that can be commonly understood by all.
Pritchard, Barbara Elizabeth. 1988. Case Study: Bob Boyer the Artist (dissertation)
Lyford, Carrie A. 2011. Quill And Beadwork Of The Western Sioux. Read Books.