When First Nation artist Andy Everson needed a sign for an Idle No More rally, he created a simple, yet powerful fist and feather design on his laptop.
Before he went to Simms Millennium Park, he posted the image on his Facebook page. By that afternoon, it had been shared 1,200 times. After 6,000 he lost count.
The image that took an hour to create has shown up in rallies in the Czech Republic, in a photo in a Rolling Stone magazine article and been adopted by aboriginal groups across the continent.
“It’s a surprise that my Idle No More design has become so popular,” says Everson who lives in Comox with his wife and two children. “The fonts on my laptop are limited but now that’s the standard font for the movement.
“I’ve given permission for anyone to use the image. My name isn’t on it. The message is far more important than self-promotion.”
Launched in November 2012, Idle No More is an ongoing protest movement featuring the concerns of Canadian aboriginal peoples and supporters about the federal government’s handling of treaty rights and indigenous sovereignty.
Everson is pleased that many groups have adapted his image to create something more personal.
“That’s important,” he says, “as it shows the diversity of aboriginal peoples. That’s our biggest strength. We’re not just one humungous group; we have different cultures, languages and art.”
Inspired by his grandparents, Margaret and Andy Frank, Everson became interested in the traditions of the K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations at an early age. But he didn’t get serious about his art until he created what he considers his first “real piece” in grade 11.
“I belonged to the Oh Toh Kin dance troupe and we were going to Arizona,” explains the 40-year-old. “I needed a blanket to wear so painted one with a Chilkat-style design.”
Everson’s now danced in cultural events throughout Canada, as well as the Netherlands, Taiwan, Mexico and other locations. And, in addition to performing with Le-La-La Dancers and Gwa’wina Dancers, he formed his own troupe, the Kumugwe Dancers.
The real turning point in his career, however, came in 1997.
“I was procrastinating writing my thesis, my grandmother died and I dipped a paddle in the water for the first time. At the same time, I began exploring art more and created my first limited edition print.”
Now Everson’s work is found in Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland galleries, as well as in Whistler, Ottawa, Alaska, Washington and BC Ferry gift shops. Partial proceeds from Flight are donated to Ironcops for Cancer and the rights to Remembrance were given to the BC Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members’ Association, which led to Everson receiving a Queen Elizabeth II Royal Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Everson recently celebrated the creation of his 100th limited edition print.
Like all good artists, his work continues to evolve. As well as working on strictly traditional art, he also uses traditional forms in contemporary ways.
“It’s freeing to explore my art in that way,” he says. “But I keep both styles separate. Traditional art is much stricter when it comes to what is acceptable or not.”
It’s this exploration that lead to Everson’s first political work.
“I’ve never thought of myself as an activist or gone to rallies,” he says. “But I am concerned about the treaty process and that’s becoming reflected in my art.”
Released in fall 2012, his Star Wars-inspired series portrays the film’s familiar characters with a new First Nations twist. It also takes a serious look at issues involved with the Canadian government and Aboriginal peoples treaty process.
But whether lighthearted or serious, part of the appeal of Everson’s artwork is his ability to make an image very personal for himself, yet also give it a broader appeal.
“I want people to be able to look at one of my prints and bring themselves into it,” he says. “To look at it and create their own story. That’s important to me.”
Everson’s work is available at numerous galleries and gift shops in the Comox Valley including I-Hos and Spirits of the West Coast Native Art Gallery. For more information and to read the stories that accompany his work, visit www.andyeverson.com.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.