Kenojuak was the first woman to experiment with drawing at Cape Dorset in the late 1950s, when she and her husband were still living on the land. She became almost an overnight sensation with the release of the 1959 Cape Dorset print collection. The 1959 print Rabbit Eating Seaweed and the 1960 The Enchanted Owl have become icons of Inuit art. Her fame only grew after the release of the 1962 NFB film Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak. She was represented in virtually every Cape Dorset print collection since 1959, and she was still working as an artist before her death.
Kenojuak’s graphic art is characterized by its emblematic quality. She was famous for her incredibly sure drawing hand, and it was truly remarkable to see her “in action” as her pencil formed the elegant switchback curves of plumage on her trademark birds. Kenojuak’s sense of design—especially her feel for the balance between positive and negative space—seems to have been utterly instinctive. Her personal style, and also her choice of subject matter, evolved considerably over the decades, but she continually returned to her beloved birds.
This work is part of a folio commissioned from Cape Dorset artists for the World Wildlife Fund Project “Art of the Eskimos” in 1976. The prints were produced in a large edition due to the special circumstances of international fundraising sales. They were launched at the Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as in Washington, Paris, The Hague and London, in 1977. This is a typical example of Kenojuak’s more “symmetrical” style, which began in the late 1960s and persisted more or less throughout the 1970s. Many of her drawings and prints from this era were dominated by a central bird’s or woman’s face, with feathered and foliate forms radiating outwards from the centre. Sometimes Kenojuak’s birds can appear fairly naturalistic in form, but here, the artist allowed her pencil to “wander through the drawing.” Her work never ventured into “wildlife” art; rather, her love of flamboyant design always had the upper hand.