One of the most famous works in Canadian art history, Carl Beam’s The North American Iceberg, 1985, marked the beginning of a sea change in the nation’s galleries. The genre-defining painting became the first piece by an artist from a First Nations community to be purchased by the National Gallery of Canada as contemporary art. Beam’s powerful composition juxtaposed images from First Nations histories with current events to illustrate the tensions between Western and Indigenous relations—and it opened doors for generations of Indigenous artists.
In Carl Beam: Life & Work, Anong Beam offers a profound portrait of her father’s life and a chronicle of his extraordinary multimedia practice. Privy to unprecedented access, she shares how, born in 1943 on Manitoulin Island to an Anishinaabe mother and American father, Beam was raised by his maternal grandparents and attended a residential school from age 10 to 18. His formal art studies began when he enrolled in the Kootenay School of Art in British Columbia, and he later enrolled at the University of Alberta. The book also explores how his career was transformed in the 1970s, when Norval Morrisseau’s highly stylized, narrative-based paintings dominated conversations about what Eastern Woodlands art should be. Taking a divergent path from the famed Morrisseau, Beam was instead inspired by American artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. Responding to their innovative mixed media techniques, he developed a new platform to speak out about colonial violence and the resilience of Indigenous peoples.
When Beam died in 2005 at the age of sixty-two, a posthumous retrospective was organized by the National Gallery in 2010 and later travelled to the Museum of Anthropology and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Although his life was tragically cut short, it was not before his reputation was cemented as one of the most important artists in Canadian history and an advocate for Indigenous rights.
Anong Migwans Beam is an artist and curator from M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. She has served as the Art Director and Executive Director of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and has exhibited her own large-format paintings across Canada and internationally. She is the founder of the Ojibwe-language Gimaa Radio and has created her own line of Beam Paints, which incorporates knowledge of Indigenous pigments learned from her parents, artists Carl and Ann Beam.