Born in Kamloops, BC in 1957, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun received a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver in 1983. In 2019, the university awarded him an honorary DFA. As a child, he attended one of the many Canadian Indian residential schools that were mandated to reduce Native cultural influence, but when the law finally permitted it, he moved to a conventional public school. His early and continued exposure to widespread injustice and racism informs his engaged, playful, and often disturbing work. The artist and activist currently lives in Vancouver.
Of Cowichan (Hul’q’umi’num Coast Salish) and Okanagan (Syilx) descent, Yuxweluptun’s paintings combine Northwest Coast’s traditional formlines and ovoids along with elements of European landscape painting and Pop art. Many also detect elements of surrealism, though—in light of Northwest Coast art’s influence on the modern movement—he prefers to use the less Eurocentric ‘visionism’ to describe this dimension of his work.
In Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (1990), Yuxweluptun twists a collection of ovoids—traditionally rendered in two dimensions or in low relief wood carvings—into three-dimensional forms that drape over the contours of a mountain, forming masks that lend life and color to the landscape. In this and other works, Yuxweluptun playfully mingles traditional Northwest Coast artistic conventions with those of traditional European painting. A scientist (the titular ‘white man’) stands on his colleague’s shoulders—the two forming an unlikely and unstable totem pole—as he quixotically struggles to fit a flexing blue sheet into the two-dimensional hole in the sky. While the sky’s fracture recalls the melting ice now firmly associated with climate change, the painting’s ostensible subject was the 1989 ban on ozone-depleting substances. As scientists narrowed their focus to bandage the environmental issue of the day, they neglected countless others. The scientists, confined to or constituted by their lab coats, contrast with the titular ‘red man’: his body a loose association of ovoids, ethereally floating together in physics-defying lightness. As if to tease the scientists’ myopia, a car drifts through the sky, escaping their notice.
Yuxweluptun’s aesthetically striking, polemical, and humorous artworks often foreground contemporary Indigenous, environmental, economic, or social issues. “I’m a modernist,” he says, “I’m dealing with modern issues of modern times.”
Yuxweluptun has received numerous grants and awards, including the Vancouver Institute for the Visual Arts Award (1998), an Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art Fellowship (2013), and an honorary doctorate from Emily Carr University of Art and Design (2019). His work has been the subject of over 25 solo exhibitions. In 2016, the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia mounted a major 30-year survey of his work, titled Unceded Territories. Yuxweluptun has participated in more than 24 pivotal group exhibitions at venues such as the Vancouver Art Gallery (1997, 2005, 2006, 2011), Banff Centre for the Arts (2003, Alberta), National Gallery of Canada (2013, 2014, Ottawa, Ontario), the Art Gallery of Ontario (2017, Toronto), SITE Santa Fe (2018), and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (2018, Bentonville, Arkansas).