Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is a contemporary artist who explores themes of identity, environmentalism, and the human condition. His artistic practice is wide-ranging and includes large-scale public art projects, sculpture, painting, multi-media works, visual books, and an opera. Combining the influence of Asian brush painting traditions with the iconography of his Haida ancestry he created a new art style called “Haida Manga.”
His books include the award winning Flight of the Hummingbird (2005), RED: A Haida Manga (2009), the War of the Blink (2017), and Carpe Fin (2019). His work has toured internationally and is in the permanent collections of the British Museum, the metropolitan Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, the Denver Arts Museum, and other institutions and private collections.
He is currently creating an 8 sq. meter mural for the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, fabricating a public art commission for Vancouver, and collaborating wit the Vancouver and Pacific Opera companies and Montreal-based composer Maxine Goulet on the post-covid launch of his opera Flight of the Hummingbird. This October UBC Press will publish “Making Mischief” an examination by Dr. Nicola Levell on Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ studio practice.
Mischief Making – Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Art, and the Seriousness of Play
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas talks about his approach and relationship to art, his current body of work at Gallery Jones, and the significance of Haida iconography in contemporary art.
“The magic of the art world is the relationship between the observer and the object. It is not entirely the object. It is that invisible space between, and the control that the observer has over it is phenomenal. My pursuit is to find that space in the middle where people who don’t understand the idiom can still access some kind of meaning.
The Haida art form is ancient and it has spread out in ripples around the planet. You can find in examples in any collection of how the Haida art form has this compelling, magnetic quality to it and it is in part because it captures something deep in all of us regardless of ethnicity.
I approach the making of art today with an eye to making space for people to participate. All enterprises require inclusivity if they are going to have longevity and merit. There has to be room for everybody. Nobody gets left behind.”
Mischief Making reveals the artist’s deep understanding of the seriousness of play. His refiguring of lines and stories opens up a realm in which the disruption of what’s expected allows different ways of experiencing, knowing, and seeing the world to emerge.
Haida Gwaii muralist and artist, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas reminds us that art opens all of us to the connections of life, the meaning of ourselves and the space between each other.
“In our vision, everybody is included, everybody counts, and nobody is left behind. There are a lot of people who don’t understand how the indians and the cowboys can be on the same team and the reasons for that reluctance are attached to a world view that has us all separated into little boxes with tiny little spaces between us and isolating us. I think that art has an opportunity to open up windows in these boxes.”