Ojibwe artist Anong Migwans Beam currently has her large format water colour and oil works on display in a solo exhibit in the heritage spaces of The Campbell House. Unfortunately, due to current lockdown regulations, we are unable to view them in person. Instead, the exhibition has moved online. The good thing is now more people can explore her works in the comfort of their own homes.
Her art has been admired worldwide with placements of her work in permanent private and gallery collections including New York, New Brunswick, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and others. She’s also had solo exhibitions in Santa Fe (NM), Victoria (BC), the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, M’Chigeeng (ON) as well as showing in numerous group exhibitions internationally. The largest painting she’s worked on was the gesso layer for her dad’s painting ‘Time Warp’ when she was five. It’s currently in the collection at the National Gallery of Canada. But Anong tells us her largest work by far is ‘Deluge’ and it’s in the current showing at The Campbell House.
Anong currently lives on the beautiful Manitoulin Island. She describes life there as removed from time. “Not that it’s behind, or ahead, but alternate somehow,” she explains. “I’ve talked to people in Jamaica and other large islands who describe a similar sensation.” She also lives on a piece of land her family chose after the signing of the Manitoulin Treaty. “I see many layers of family everywhere most of all my two sons and my boyfriend.”
She also tells us how much she loves the pace and the number of animals she cares for on the land including chickens, goats, Belgian draft horses, dogs and cats. But then there are the wild animals she also tell us often visit and she also takes care of including cardinals, deers, otters, foxes, eagles and hawks.
Born to artist parents, Carl and Ann Beam, she was naturally encouraged to explore the world of art. She was raised with a meaningful connection to both her artistic family roots and her rich ancestral heritage. Anong also learned to work with her surrounding natural resources at an early age. The land has not only been a great inspiration in subject matter but also in creating the actual paints that she uses. She’s been collecting rocks from Bay Fine near Killarney and then painting the places that reflects where she’s gathered from.
“I remember making paints from gathered stones and rocks with my mum and dad since I was very small, 3 or 4, in different ways,” said Anong. “I did that off and on not really understanding it in a wider way. It’s easy to put a collar on something especially something from a store are see it as totally other, like paint. I suppose it’s silly but I never connected what I learned and did as paintmaking until I tried to learn how to make ‘paint’ in a Western European way and making it how others directed was clumsy until I realized I basically knew already from a learned by watching way.”
Her recent paintings explore themes that have emerged based on what’s been happening in her life over recent years including experiences with her mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One is based on memories.”It’s funny but I think maybe it’s the fabrication of memory, and in my paintings, I blend my own memories with other events or signifiers that attach me to the world and its memory, all the people I admire, places I wanted to go, and want to return! A lot of them are memories of harbours I’ve visited. Like Hong Kong Harbour, Venice, Hvar, these places like my island home have that wooden boat and dock smell, humidity that plays light luminous, concentrations of people coming and going, commerce, they’re so dense!
One of our favourite pieces of hers is titled ‘Bright Iceberg’. She was inspired after a studio move. “I was coming back to painting after a bit from a studio move and also after making paint in a more significant way, it was really altering because I was so much more attentive to the paint and the texture and colour, and kind of relishing it.”
With the pandemic what’s it like to launch a solo exhibition and what else can we expect during this time? “I’ve really enjoyed this exhibition at Campbell House, I’m really fortunate to be working with amazing people who have great panache and enthusiasm for art! They have made digital tours and events and talks available for people to join live and also posted the recordings! “
Although Anong Beam practices her art in a somewhat isolated place, on Manitoulin Island, her perception and vision reflect the contemporary art world and incorporate elements of daily life. Bringing her work into a historic house museum in downtown Toronto precipitates the contrast of rural and remote with the urban and immediate. By sparking a conversation about contemporary art through the lens of an artist from M’Chigeeng First Nation, the exhibit expands upon a much bigger story of colonialism and of the rural-urban divide of art in Ontario.