Photo of Benjamin Chee Chee - not dated

Benjamin Chee Chee was born in 1944 at Temagami  and died by his own hand at the age of 33, in 1977 at Ottawa.



Like several other First Nations artists, his  death occurred just as he was coming into prominence as an artist, so we are left with a small body of work and lots of questions as to what direction his future output would have taken.


Unlike most other First Nations artists of his time, he denied the interpretation that he was painting from the viewpoint of First Nations’ spirituality. It is clear though, that despite living in large southern Canadian cities since 1965, his artistic vision still resonated with the images of northern wildlife.


Chee Chee was very much a painter of his time, and in many of his works appeared to be contrasting how use of limited colour palette and voids would affect the ideas of movement. His series of Canada Geese paintings used just three colours – black, ochre and the background colour of the canvas. We can watch the sparingly applied colours move to different areas of the canvas while the feeling of motion is clear to us.


Gradually he also explored adding more colours to that mix and  expanding the areas on which he was placing pigments. 


His “Dancing Goose” although seeming to explore less colour yet, in actual fact is a subtle blend of many shades of lighter, very warm sienna pigment.


And again, he tries adding more colour but not necessarily covering more area….. well. maybe a little bit more! His use of subtle colour is masterful, isn’t it?



Next, maybe a little more colour yet; and another departure – one figure seen in front of another. The fire and burning sticks are still a little stylized but less so than the bird which is almost phoenix-like arising from the flame……



Another aspect of exploring the use of voids and solids on a canvas – until this one, Chee Chee’s birds had all been lines with small amounts of pigment laid down. Now we see him filling in the bodies with shading and cross hatchings – a departure, and a very successful one at that.



And lastly: Running Goose is solidly filled in with pigment  – a rich golden brown. This exciting print is currently in Mich’s inventory. Email him   mich@redkettle.com to enquire about purchase. 

As I was exploring more and more sites that I turned up in my search I found this great site, that celebrates the life north of Hwy17 in Ontario. This is an area I loved when I lived in Ontario (Janet talking here) and is the Canadian Shield country where Mich grew up.

Since Mich also is into guitars and making music as well as art, I think he will enjoy Don Charbonneau’s site – Don is a songwriter who has a deep and enduring love for the north – read some of his stories and listen to his songs at http://www.doncharbonneau.com/fr_theinspiration.cfm

He covers a lot of ground on that one page and in doing so talks about several First Nations artists from the area, as well as Tom Gallant a singer/songwriter from my home province.

During these last dog days of summer, I’ll be exploring the output in more depth of several of our Canadian First Nations and Inuit artists and I hope you follow along with me. I learned a lot today and I think broadened my experience of Chee Chee’s work, I’m looking forward to exploring other greats of the last generation.

See you next week – Janet(east coast) and Mich(west coast)



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