Happy Valley-Goose Bay — North West River artist Billy Gauthier’s first major solo exhibit was one for the ages.
It blew almost every expectation for the event completely out of the water.
Not only were all 25 of his modern Labrador Inuit sculptures spoken for in the first day, an incredible feat in itself, but in record time — a mere 18 minutes into the exhibit’s opening.
“I was a bundle of nerves at first, especially the morning of the exhibit, and then I ended up getting a phone call from my mother,” Gauthier said. “When I had that phone call I just assumed that it was my mother making some arrangements for dinner later on that evening, but she had actually called to tell me the thing had sold out.”
Entitled ‘Billy Gauthier: Visions From Labrador,’ the exhibit ran at Spirit Wrestler Gallery in the Gastown neighbourhood of Vancouver from Oct. 23-Nov. 12.
The spectrum of people who purchased Gauthier’s work ranged from the affluent of society to those less well off, but who share a genuine love for Inuit art.
A piece sold to the University of British Columbia will be housed at the institution’s Museum of Anthropology.
Some of the would-be buyers who missed out on their chance to add to their private collections have since commissioned Gauthier to create custom works for them.
“I’m a little anxious to get this new space I’m building put together,” he said. “It’s pretty much the perfect size for me right now because I need to clear the room out of dust pretty quickly.”
Gauthier had been previously working out of a small room in a garage, but will soon have an area measuring 12 feet by 20 feet to create his next wave of sculpture.
His work had been showcased in exhibits at Spirit Wrestler before, but thanks to this most recent success, Gauthier finds himself in some pretty rare air not only when talking about Inuit artists in this country, but also now on the world stage.
Although he is still in the early stages of his career, Spirit Wrestler’s curator, Nigel Reading, describes Gauthier as “one of the definitive Inuit artists of his generation.”
Inspiration for his carvings comes from stories told to him by elders, or stories he has read and sometimes dreamed about, Gauthier said.
He began carving in 1996, and sold some of his works in galleries in Labrador and New Brunswick.
It was his 2007 introduction to reading by Herb Brown, owner of Birch’s Gallery in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, that kick-started his climb up the ranks, not only when talking about Inuit artists in this country, but also on the world stage.
“Herb supported me in my early years by displaying and selling my artworks in his gallery,” Gauthier said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Gauthier’s work can be viewed at www.spiritwrestler.com.