coloured pencil drawing, 29.875 x 22.175 in (76 x 56 cm)
signed in syllabics "ᐅᓇ".
Estimate: $5,000 — $8,000
Ex Collection of Lorne Balshine, Vancouver;
Private Collection, Toronto.
Jessie Oonark’s wall hangings could be large and quite complex, often composed of several tiers of figures and symbolic or decorative elements. It is in her drawings that we sometimes see Oonark focussing on simpler compositions, working with fewer and larger figures and design elements, and experimenting with colour combinations. Oonark’s later drawings are rarely narrative; even when she portrays human figures or faces, these are often incorporated into the overall symbolic imagery.
Two Female Spirits is a wonderful case in point: although incorporating two lovely women’s faces, the composition is fundamentally symbolic and almost abstract. The delicate arced shapes emanating from the faces might represent hairsticks (one of Oonark’s favourite symbols of womanhood) but the multiplication of the forms suggests further possibilities: hairsticks and arms? shoulders? wings? Whether these faces represent spirits, or sisters, or a mother and daughter is almost immaterial; they soar ethereally, elegantly, and effortlessly. Stunning.
References: For Oonark drawings incorporating some similar imagery see Blodgett and Bouchard, Jessie Oonark: A Retrospective (WAG, 1986) cat. 63; Waddington’s Auctions, May 2018, Lot 82; Nov. 2015, Lot 107; and June 2014, Lot 78. For similar imagery incorporated into wall hangings see Art Gallery of Ontario, The People Within (Toronto: AGO, 1976) cat. 56. A 1985 print comes to mind as well: Pipedreams (1985 #23), where a cascade of arcs implies flying or swimming.