Christi Belcourt is a Métis visual artist and author living in Ontario, Canada. Her flower patterned acrylic paintings, which are inspired by medicine and Métis and First Nations beadwork. She talks to me about her painting, Watersong, which was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada.
“This painting is an ode, I’m not a musician so it’s my song to water.”
Q. What is the inspiration behind the painting?
I was thinking about women and the importance of water and the importance of preserving the most important resource that we have, which is our fresh water.
The Great Lakes are being proposed as a route through which nuclear waste can be transported and that nuclear waste is radio-active so there’s a large opposition to that, and mostly it’s the communities that live and survive near the Great Lakes water system, which are our largest fresh water bodies in the world.
To me there will probably come a day when human beings will realize that water is more precious than oil. We can live without oil, but we cannot survive without water.
Q. What sparked your creativity to start the painting?
I’m normally sparked from something that triggers my emotions, something in the news and something I’ve seen, something I’ve experience. Normally before I start painting I start researching it like crazy, for my own interest. Once I’m on that track then it expands out into all these other things, because everything is connected.
Q. What is your painting process like?
I draw directly onto the canvas, and I don’t do full sketches of painting, usually just of particular plants if I need to understand them better. I paint the canvas black and then draw in with a light colored pencil on top. The black background is inspired from the use of black trade cloth historically that was preferred for beadwork. The drawing process takes a lot of time. This painting took me four months to complete.
Q. Can you tell me more about Watersong as a whole?
The roots are showing in the painting to show that there’s more to life than what we see, in the spiritual sense. And also that our roots, our heritage, has great influence over our lives. Even if we’re adopted we don’t realize that our ancestors walk with us, our ancestors are in us, and some of their memories are carried in our blood. All life needs nurturing in order to survive.
There’s different species of plants that emerge from the same stem to show that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form. There are little brown, copperish reflective areas and that’s the spirit world because there’s spirits inside each plant, inside each living thing, inside the earth, inside the universe. Also there are spirits who guide us as individuals and spirits who are hanging out. Those are the spirits that are hanging out and around everything.
Q. Can you tell me about the significance of the owls?
It’s considered in some nations that the spirit world will communicate you through your dreams. They do that because in our waking life we are too busy thinking and following our own free will. In dream world that’s when the spirit world, our guides, can come and teach us things because that’s when we’re more receptive to teachings.
A lot of time I’ll get things in my dreams, like animals, that are repetitive and I’ve learned to start listening to them more because I figure that they want to be painted. With the owl I was having several dreams and when I painted her, she stopped coming into my dream.
Q. What is the story about the spiders in Watersong?
A little spider came and sat on the canvas and I was drawing around it, because I don’t kill anything. It sat there for about four days and it finally dawned on me that the spider wanted to be in the painting and then I talked to the spider, apologised to it and let it know that I would include it in the painting. I went downstairs to get tea and when I came back the spider was gone.