"Central in Boyer's life and that of his people is the timeless quest for connection with the universe through personal meditation and group ceremony. These practices provide the wellspring of inspiration for Boyer's paintings. They come naturally to him as they are rooted in his Native North American background as a means of coming into contact with the spirit realm."
- Janet Clark, curator
Click on a heading to expand the section
- What is the significance of the title? What does communion mean?
- Consider what the white buffalo may signify. How may a white buffalo represent the idea of communion?
- What does the colour white symbolize?
- Consider the designs and symbols. Do they seem specific to any one culture?
A traditional value in Indian art making was that images come from the spirit world…call it subconscious or spiritual or whatever…
- This painting was created for the exhibition series, Connections to Collections in which Boyer was invited to explore Glenbow’s collections and produce work inspired by his experience. This painting was an extension of the experience Boyer had reviewing the collection and echoes the images he analyzed.
- Boyer used a traditional fresco technique which was an application of paint directly onto limestone plaster walls but instead of limestone plaster, he used a drywall compound on burlap and plywood.
- This works draws from the influence of two prominent First Nations artists in the art collection, Alex Janvier and Norval Morrisseau. Specifically, it was a work by Janvier that depicted a white buffalo and Morrisseau’s use of white in his paintings that resonates in this work by Boyer. As well, he was affected by the ceremonial objects that lay in the museum’s storage, removed from Native peoples’ lives. Rather than objects for display, Boyer has presented the peace pipes in this painting in their spiritual context.
- Communion depicts a white buffalo flanked by two Sioux peace pipes. The painting cites the Sioux prophecy of the second coming of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, bringing peace and harmony to humankind. The legend recounts a tale of her visit long ago that brought the sacred pipe and seven sacred rites. Her return would be signaled by the birth of a white buffalo. In 1994, Miracle, a white female calf, was born in Wisconsin and has since brought hope of spiritual renewal for some Native communities.
- The title, Communion, and the image of the bleeding buffalo allude to Christianity. They evoke the traditional imagery of Christ as a sacrificial lamb. Yet Boyer’s distinct First Nations visual language denies these Western cultural associations. According to curator Jack Anderson, “In doing so, he denies the authority and dominance of Eurocentric visual language and techniques. Although he does not make any overt reference to the European model, his paintings become a reference to them by omission…” The buffalo has replaced the lamb with its strong associations to Native culture and spirituality.
- Boyer’s use of fresco is also a way of challenging Eurocentric assumptions about the history of art. Fresco has been documented in art history as a technique that dates back to European traditions such as Medieval and Renaissance church wall and ceiling painting. Boyer argues that the tradition dates back to much earlier indigenous traditions including pictographic images on rocks found throughout North America and wall paintings found in Incan and Mayan temples.
Share your thoughts and ideas! Reply to a previous comment, tell us what you think about this work or respond to this question.
There are many cultural references in this painting. Do you need to know or understand what those references are in order to understand this work?
Find out more about the artist.
Bob Boyer was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1948.
Boyer graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in Regina.
About his Career
He was a Métis artist who was best known for his politically charged paintings and installations. Boyer worked in various media and combined the designs of the Sioux and Northern Cree people with elements inspired by Western art traditions. He also worked extensively as a teacher, writer and curator, contributing much to contemporary First Nations art and to Canadian culture over the past 30 years. Boyer began teaching at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (part of the University of Saskatchewan) in 1978 and was their Department Head of Indian Art for nearly 24 years. In his work as artist and teacher, Boyer was critical of colonialism and the representation of Native art and cultures in mainstream society. Boyer passed away in 2004 while dancing at a Powwow in Nebraska.
oil glaze on fresco on burlap
121.7 x 183.1 cm
Collection of Glenbow Museum; Gift of Bob Boyer, in Memory of Ida Wasacase, 2000