Inuit art enthusiasts require no introduction to Parr or his unduplicatable artworks. His “uncomplicated” drawings and prints have been a bellwether for collectors since the very early days. Parr’s drawings and the prints derived from them have often been described as “childlike”—in some cases as a pejorative, but increasingly over the years as high praise. Just a few years after its creation one of Parr’s greatest images, Blue Geese Feeding, was given a full page illustration in W. T. Larmour’s widely distributed book, Inunnit . In a 1962 review in The Windsor Star, columnist Kenneth Saltmarche intimated that “notable among” the selection of Cape Dorset prints was Blue Geese Feeding . In 2014, two of Parr’s graphite drawings sold for more than $10,000 each.
For those unacquainted with this artist, Parr was born in 1893 on southern Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island). Parr came to maturity in the traditional Inuit way of life, hunting and raising a family in the area around Tikerak, their summer camp, and winters at Tessikakjuak (“Fish Lakes”), an inlet situated a mere eight miles north of Dorset Island, the site of the present-day Kinngait (Cape Dorset), where he often traded. Parr was an excellent and enthusiastic hunter until a hunting accident resulted in severe frostbite to both feet, requiring evacuation to the Anglican Mission hospital in Pangnirtung and the amputation of part of his right foot. Parr was no longer able to hunt, and from that time on he and his wife Eleshushee relied almost completely on their eldest sons, particularly Quvianaqtuliaq with whom they lived. At the encouragement of Terry Ryan, Parr began drawing in 1961 as a means to make a livelihood while he and Eleshushee were still living on the land. Both Parr and Eleshushee began to draw enthusiastically, especially after their move into Cape Dorset in late 1961. Parr would assemble graphic works of a mesmeric combination of traditional imagery that featured lively animals and bustling figures for nearly a decade before his death in November 1969, and Eleshushee became an accomplished, if less prolific, artist in her own right.
Parr created somewhat more than two thousand drawings during the seven years that he was actively working. Most are housed in the West Baffin Co-op archives, but a few hundred have found their way into the art market. Parr himself created the plates for a half-dozen engravings and etchings in the early 1960s; twenty-eight of his drawings were translated by Kinngait’s master printmakers into mostly stonecut and a few stencil prints and released in annual print collections, for a total of thirty-four, including the posthumous Hunters of Old, which was released in 1974 . Less than ten prints have been issued since; these are prints completely editioned in the 1960s but only released by Dorset Fine Arts since the 1990s.
Parr’s images have a freshness and vigour that is very easy to enjoy. At first glance they seem deceptively simple; in reality they convey a sense of hidden depths and even mystery. Parr created highly sophisticated images that reveal an intuitive understanding of space, form, and composition. Just like the great Baker Lake graphic artist Luke Anguhadluq (1895-1982), Parr invented his own way of describing and revealing his remembered world and life. Marion Jackson succinctly described Parr’s art as "a balanced dialectic between simplification and complexity that becomes almost hypnotic to a sensitive viewer" . Indeed, Parr expressed his art in an abbreviated graphic style that evokes both timelessness and action, and while it does not do so with an exacting naturalism, it describes Parr’s life as a “hunter of old” accurately and movingly.
Works may be viewed by appointment only at Galerie Elca London. To obtain condition reports and additional images, please contact email@example.com or 647-286-5012.
1. Larmour, W.T. Inunnit: The Art of the Canadian Eskimo. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1967, p. 72, pl. 73.
2. Saltmarche, Kenneth. “Eskimo Art Coming,” The Windsor Star, 10 April 1962, p. 22.
3. The thirty-four originally catalogued prints by Parr were published together in a catalogue commemorating the tenth anniversary of the artist’s death: Kingait Press, Parr, 1893-1969, A Print Retrospective (Cape Dorset: Kingait Press, 1969).
4. Jackson, Marion E. “Parr’s Drawings: The Marks of a Hunter.” In Parr: His Drawings. Halifax: The Art Gallery, Mount Saint Vincent University, 1988, p. 5