Blending the influences of Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh with the shapes of Ojibwa pictographs to produce a uniquely expressive style of contemporary painting that helped propel aboriginal art out of the anthropology museums and kitschy gift shops into galleries of fine arts, the Canadian Indigenous painter and printmaker, Daphne Odjig, is revered as an internationally renowned artist who brought a tectonic shift in Canadian art history.
A founding member of the 1970s artists' alliance the ‘Indian Group of Seven’, Odjig was born on September 11, 1919, in Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Coming from a native background- Potawatomi and Odawa- she was proud of art and culture of her ancestors. She studied art formally in Ottawa, as well as in Sweden.
Moving to Toronto for work during the second World War, Odjig spent her weekends teaching herself to paint by observing and copying works of the masters at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Toronto. It was here that she met her first husband, Paul Somerville, who later died in a car accident. Afterwards, she remarried to Chester Beavon, and they moved to northern Manitoba in 1962.
Odjig and her husband opened their own shop, featuring many native arts and crafts. There she met Cree people and learned about the hard times they were going through by flooding from man made dams. This became evident in her art work, through a series of drawings.
In 1972, Odjig's work put on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This exhibition featured her and two other noted artists work. It was the first time that native artists were featured in an Art Gallery. By 1976, the couple moved back to British Columbia, near Lake Shuswap. Here she was commissioned to paint a four-part mural “The Indian in Transition”. With this piece she was able to express her true emotions and some human truths.
Odjig received three honorary Doctorates from Laurentian University (1982), University of Toronto (1985), and Nipissing University (1997). She also served on the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry and Adviser, and was honored as an elder. In 1989, she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. In 2007, she received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Canada post featured three of her paintings on Canadian postage stamps in February 2011. In 2007, she was made a Member of the Order of British Columbia.
Odjig had over 30 solo exhibitions and was part of over 50 group exhibits during her career. “The Drawings and the Paintings of Daphne Odjig: A Retrospective Exhibition” featured work from over 40 years of her career. The exhibit was organized by the Art Gallery of Sudbury and the National Gallery of Canada, from October 2009 through 2010.
Despite suffering from arthritis in her right hand, Odjig continued to sketch during her later years. And at the age of 97, she died on October 1, 2016, in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.