The first thing to know about IceBear is that his name is Chris.
But when it comes to his work, he attributes it to IceBear.
It’s a name he got from his totem, he told Samantha Stagg and her Grade 4 and 5 students from Oceanside Elementary School during a tour of his exhibition at the MAC on June 1.
A status member of the Chippewas of Nawash in Ontario, his culture celebrates gifts that people are born with, and view them as separate from the person who was given them. So his work is attributed to IceBear, he explained.
Hoping to share some of his culture and his artwork with the students, IceBear said his gift is to be a dreamer — someone able to give expression to dreams.
His art is an expression of these dreams, said the Crofton-based artist. “I try to see what’s in my heart and present it to people,” hopefully in a way that they can understand, he said.
It’s something he learned to do very early on. At a young age, he was taken off his reservation and placed in foster care in Toronto, he said. He couldn’t speak English, and no one could understand him. “I communicated by drawing,” he said.
Though he made it clear to the students that, for him, his intention or what he sees in his art is not as important as what they see in it.
Much of his work, both paintings and sculptures, are abstract, though taking inspiration from his culture, or including animals.
One work he pointed out, called Seeds of Life, was about the beginning of life on Earth via a magnificent fireball.
He encouraged the students to look at the painting and tell him what they saw. Soon, hands flew up — many students flailed their hands eagerly to describe where they saw a horse, a bull, birds, fish and others.
“I only suggest them,” said IceBear of the animals, though he noted some of the students were able to see even more than he did in his work.
The students proceeded to take an animated tour of the exhibit, pointing out to each other what they saw.
But what they didn’t see was the exhibit’s centrepiece, which was yet to be delivered to the MAC. Entitled Black Elk, it’s a large, sculpted head carved out of the base of a monkey puzzle tree.
Still a work in progress, the piece is a special project for a Nanaimo family.
The wood the piece is sculpted from is a tree from the family’s property that died after looking over two generations of the family.
IceBear encouraged the students to keep hold of their imaginations and to express themselves with their own art.
The Dreams of a Dreamer exhibit runs until June 30 at the MAC in Parksville.