No fame, no fortune, no problem

Pond Inlet artist relies on word of mouth to move his carvings, prints and miniature models

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

KIRSTEN MURPHY

Josie Pitseolak, 27, adds the final touches to a detailed pencil drawing. The lifelike image of a child, copied from a colour photo, is so painstakingly precise a bystander mistakes the reproduction for a black and white photograph.

Small, detailed work is Pitseolak’s artistic trademark. Although his talents haven’t gained national recognition, the Pond Inlet resident is becoming a household name in Nunavut.

Stranded in Iqaluit during a blizzard last week, the self-taught artist passed the day working from a red vinyl booth at The Snack restaurant.

Armed with a thick sketchpad and a dozen graphite pencils, Pitseolak kept his head down and his pencil moving.

Indeed everything he touched turned to art that afternoon. An empty pop can became a diamond-studded sleeve after a couple of twists and clicks in his hands.

A $5 bill transformed into a miniature billfold the size of a thumbnail after a few folds.

All the while, no words left the lips of the cherub-cheeked artist.

As he worked, bystanders strained their necks for a look at his wares.

He spoke only when spoken to – and even then, his answers were short and to the point.

However, the more people milled around his booth, the more likely Pitseolak was to retrieve one of his carved-ivory pens or a stack of his colour drawings, further proof of his talents.

The sale of his soapstone polar bear carvings at the Northern store and sketches of relatives and community members pay his bills. More recently, Pitseolak has started experimenting with miniature renditions of everyday objects such as ulus and cracker boxes.

These later experiments have sold well, especially with tourists, he says.

A rough looking man with a deep Quebecois accent approaches Pitseolak at the restaurant. He asks about the ivory pen crowned with two polar bears.

The pen, awaiting finishing touches, has already been sold, Pitseolak says.

The man, also not big on words, shrugs as if to say, “Too bad. It’s good, I’d buy it.”

As proof of his rising fame, Pitseolak’s illustrations recently appeared in two children’s books. And Montreal-based artist Paul Machink included one in his Nunavut 2000 print collection.

His relaxed attitude and monosyllabic answers say it all, though: no gallery, no agent, no fame, no problem.

It’s not that Pitseolak has an aversion to hard work or recognition. Sure, he’d like to go to art school if he had the money. And if a gallery wanted to sell his goods, he wouldn’t say no.

But for now, the $50 to $500 he makes from selling carvings and prints is enough to replenish his supplies and buy him a point and shoot camera and Palm Pilot sketchpad.

For now, and maybe forever, simplicity works best for Pitseolak.

“Some people say I have gift. I don’t know if I’d call it that,” he says, returning to his work.

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