You might have heard that Levi Nelson was voted Favourite Artist in the 2020 Best of Pemberton.
Three weeks ago, he chatted virtually with SLCC Curator Alison Pascal, about life as an artist and exploring the question: what does contemporary indigenous painting look like, and can he, as a Lil’wat artist, navigating painting, and still make reference to indigenous culture, given that there’s not a lot of artefacts apart from basketry and stone tools to inform his traditional style.
Watch the half hour video here.
On the rise
Levi Nelson has a good problem.
“At least once a week, people are calling to inquire about purchasing paintings. I’m starting to run out,” the Lil’wat Nation artist says with a laugh.
Having just finished a massive three-by 2.4-metre painting—featuring animals representing each of the Nation’s clans—for a new, green home down in the Soo Valley, Nelson now plans to spend his summer fixing up his Mount Currie art studio.
“I’d like to get into my studio not only to finish it, but also move into it by winter,” he says.
While he still has one semester left of art school at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Nelson’s career has been on a decidedly upward trajectory since 2018.
That year, his colourful, abstract quadriptych called Biology won the IDEA Art Award.
“I started painting really intensely about five years ago and since the IDEA art award, things have really started to take off,” he says.
More recently, though, he became the first Lil’wat Nation artist to have a painting in the Audain Art Museum’s permanent collection. In March, it officially acquired Nations in an Urban Landscape, which depicts a crowded Downtown Eastside street with masks from the museum’s collection, as well as a bentwood box, and a basket made by his master basket weaver grandmother.
That came on the heels of his first solo show, After the Blast: The Art of Levi Nelson, curated by Arts Whistler, at the Maury Young Arts Centre last November, the first time the gallery hosted a solo exhibit by a Lil’wat artist.
“This recognition of my work, I’m just incredibly grateful that people are able to see something in it,” he says.
Another surprisingly fruitful accomplishment has been having the Village of Pemberton choose his art to appear on banners and hydro boxes around town.
“My university somehow heard about it and shared it over their Instagram feed,” he says. “I’m getting a lot of commissions out of it and other projects. Kudos to Pemberton for acknowledging Indigenous culture. Pemberton is on Lil’wat Nation traditional territory, so it’s fitting.”
Next up, Nelson will have two pieces featured in a group show at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver in October. Running through to February, it will showcase work by Indigenous artists who identify as two-spirited or part of the LGBTQ community.
For now, though, Nelson is taking in his new title as Pemberton’s favourite artist in Pique’s Best of Pemberton readers’ poll.
“I’m incredibly honoured,” he said. “I’m grateful to have this spot.”
– Alyssa Noel