About Native Canadian Artist Darlene Gait

From Canadian Brushstroke Magazine, March/April 2008

First Nations Artist Creates Art to Serve Her People

Esquimalt Nations artist Darlene Gait paints colorful and spiritual images that capture the pride of her people.

First Nations artist Darlene Gait of Vancouver Island, BC, is inspired by her Coast Salish culture. The acrylic paintings done by this Esquimalt Nations artist come alive with vibrant colours, poignant subject matter, and strong designs, making them immediately recognizable and in demand worldwide.

Gait says her art reflects her passion for protecting the environment and wildlife as well her belief in the oneness of humanity and the beauty of its diversity. I always combine nature with my heritage in a simple way that is easy to understand for the viewer. It's done in a way that hopefully stirs emotion in the individual. There are many layers in my work: the landscape, the people, the nature and the wildlife, all combined to create the feeling of a unit.

Noticing other artists' work at an early age, Gait remembers walking past gallery windows in Victoria and Sidney, seeing pieces by Robert Bateman, Roy Henry Vickers and Marla Wilson. Referring to Wilson, Gait says, "her talent blew me away. It really helped having someone to look up to when I was so young. "

The influence of these artists played a huge role in defining the artist Gait is today.

I was inspired by Robert Bateman's love of nature, and Roy Vickers' bravery of painting outside the traditional boundaries. I also loved Emily Carr's work. Her colours are so rich, said Gait.

Another prodigious factor in Gait's artistic and creative development was her grandmother, Hilda Cooper. "My grandmother was a medicine woman, a real medicine woman. I want to make that clear," she insists. "People would seek her out and pay her well to make their problems go away. Not just marital or health problems, but she even had a talent for quickly getting people out of jail when needed," according to Gait. ... see full story PDF format

Darlene Gait Coast Salish Artist at her studio


Esquimalt artist Darlene Gait's paintings honor, promote healing

Posted: January 23, 2008
by Richard Walker / Indian Country Today

ESQUIMALT, British Columbia - Connection. That's the golden thread woven through all of Esquimalt artist Darlene Gait's paintings and screenprints.

Her art is varied in style as well as subject. ''Spawning,'' an ink and colored-pencil depiction of salmon spawning, brings to mind the work of Musqueam artist Susan Point. Several of Gait's mixed media and acrylics - like ''Alert Bay,'' ''Connections,'' ''Legends'' and ''Wisdom from Above'' - are reminiscent of Tsimshian/Haida/Heiltsuk artist Roy Henry Vickers.

But her work is uniquely personal, inspired by her connection to the environment and wildlife as well as her belief in the oneness of humanity and the beauty of its diversity.

Gait, 39, is as inspired as she is inspirational. One night, in her husband's native Spain, she had a dream about the connectedness of people and other living things. The next morning, she was praying on the balcony of her room and a hawk landed on her head. She and her husband studied the bird, which mimicked their head movements. That encounter led to ''Balance,'' an acrylic on canvas.

''It has always been a difficult challenge to find a balance mentally, physically and spiritually, and it has been a lifelong goal of mine to have that, and I remember this dream I had with the feeling of finding that balance and it was so incredible,'' she wrote about the piece. ''I tried to illustrate that in this painting.''

In her wildlife art, prominent animals of the Northwest Coast - bear, eagle, raven, salmon - are depicted from encounters she has had with them in their environment. She incorporates Coast Salish elements to illustrate the interdependence of her culture and the environment.

In ''Blue Moon,'' Gait honors her maternal grandfather, who died before she had the opportunity to know him.... full story

Cover Story from FOCUS Magazine October, 2007

Darlene Gait:
Darlene Gait FOCUS Magazine

By Linda Rogers
Click to download PDF Version

I arrive a day early for my meeting with Darlene Gait at her new One Moon Gallery on the Esquimalt Reserve. It is a sunny afternoon, so I explore the beautiful cove in front of the Big House and band office. Seagulls scold mother eagles circling the water’s edge with their young, teaching them how to hunt. On the beach, stone benches circle a fire. The peace is palpable.

A day later, Darlene and I meet in the parking lot. When she takes me into the gallery she opened in April 2007, I am struck at first by the mingling scents of cedar and artist’s materials.

Even though I know I am imagining the smell of oil paint, as Darlene works in acrylic and takes prints from her originals, memory insists. She gives me a tour of the work on her walls. The limited-edition giclee prints on canvas or archival paper are to scale with the paintings which, she says, are almost indistinguishable from the originals. “I learned that some reds are not easily reproduced, but otherwise the color is very  faithful.” By reproducing her technically accomplished dream works at the source, the painter has control.  I think of other artists, in particular Salvador Dali, whose print works have been desecrated by sloppy reproduction.

Converting paint to print is an important statement. It democratizes Gait’s highly individual style. She wants her work, which hangs in ordinary homes as well as galleries like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum, to be accessible.

“I was destined to be an artist,” she says, “even though my father was concerned that I might not be able to earn a living.” Darlene’s other aptitudes, for science and archeology, are manifested in her astonishingly accurate detail and her respect for antiquity. Her father’s anxiety has been answered in her ability to maintain artistic integrity in the marketplace.  

“My two sisters and my brother have followed their dreams as well. We were taught self-respect and respect for our Native heritage.”

Upstairs from the One Moon Gallery is her parents’ new home. Because her father is of European ancestry and her mother is from the Esquimalt Nation, Gait grew up feeling as if she were straddling continents. Now they are at home together: her family, her Nation and her work, a co-existence which is her model for the world.

Married after completing high school in Errington and a mother before the end of her second decade, Gait has had to struggle. Left on her own with a child to raise, she worked at jobs that put food on the table, painting at night when her first son, Justin, now going to film school, was asleep. “Those were hard years, but I persevered, teaching myself technique and listening to my dreams.”

Gait explains that she works from text rather than image. A voice will speak to her. It may be embedded in memory or suggested by objects in the phenomenal world. Transferring words into visual images is her way of storytelling. And those stories are very powerful. Taking traditional emblems, such as animals with supernatural  associations, she transfers their power into contemporary moments, often the narratives of children coming to terms with history. In one painting, her youngest son, Jonah, sits with a book on the steps of the Legislature in Victoria, absorbing the information that his ancestors once lived on land now covered with fussy Victorian architecture.

When Gait met and married her current husband, Mark, who had already collected some of her work—falling in love with the art before he’d met the artist—she studied and later embraced the Bahá’í faith. The serenity that comes from the practice of meditation is evident in her peaceful transformations of dream into reality. Despite the vividness of her color and the clarity of her line, there is no harshness in the idealized natural world she creates. The transformational power that allowed her aboriginal ancestors to move in and out of the spirit realm is apparent in the images she selects to tell her stories: animals with grace and wisdom, children with genetic memory, and landscapes that are one with plant and animal life.

I glance at a painting of eagles soaring past a mountain top. “Is that from a dream?” I ask.  No,” she laughs, “I actually went there. I am not afraid of adventure. The scientist in me wants to experience and record the real world.”

I quote what W. O. Mitchell said of writing novels: “The details are true, their sum is fiction.” Gait is very exact in reproducing the natural world. She could be a botanist. The effect of her technique, however, is anything but static. It grows with the spirit, just as she hopes the human race will evolve to living as one family on the planet.

The Bahá’ís, like her mother’s matrilineal culture, teach the equality of women. Gait says she has overcome the “fear of success” that afflicts many women. That fear, and some Native criticism of her work as “not traditional,” made her early years difficult. “It especially hurt when I watched a Cowichan mother’s dismissive refusal of her child’s request for one of my small prints.” Meditation and the support of her husband have helped her to accept and maintain her vision.

Evolution versus tradition is a perennial argument among aboriginal artists, some of whom feel the only way to heal the traumas of history is to adhere to the past. Darlene says, “We deserve to be more than just the same. It needs to be OK to move ahead.”

Gait’s paintings, and her illustrations for children’s stories published by Orca Books, are the emissaries she sends out into a troubled world. She will be happy if she can help to facilitate a reconciliation of her two solitudes, Native and non-Native. Her work, her gallery and her beautiful presence, the Earth Mother Goddess in many of her paintings, are evidence of hope.

Darlene’s work can be viewed at the One Moon Art Gallery at 1192 Kosapsum Crescent, off Admirals, Esquimalt Nation. The Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.  250-294-6388

Linda Rogers is working on the second and third books of her Victoria trilogy. The first, The Empress Letters, will be featured in Focus’ November edition.

From the Times Colonist, Thursday October 2, 2003 Go! Art


by Robert Amos

Darlene Gait’s art is about all things good. Her detailed acrylic paintings are often narrative, with a poem attached, inspired by her vivid dreams. They might feature a local animal imbued with spiritual significance, totemic animals like eagle, wolf, heron, kingfisher and lynx. With acrylic paint on canvas, she paints animals and young women with every hair in place.

Children are often the subject of her pictures, as big-eyed and charming as those of Dorothy Oxborough. There is a cosmic niceness about her themes which brings to mind Roy Henry Vickers or Carol Evans. Often the whole scene is bathed in a heavenly glow in the mood of Thomas Kincaid.

Gait grew up at Errington near the Englishman River on Vancouver Island. She is a member of the Esquimalt Band of the Coast Salish Nation and lives in Shawnigan Lake. With a high level of skill and encouragement, she seems poised for success in the wider world. The current show is almost entirely made up of giclee prints of her originals.

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