Kananginak Pootoogook was born in 1935 at Ikirassak, a small hunting camp near Cape Dorset on southern Baffin Island. A member of one of the region’s dominant clan groups, he was raised to be a hunter and trapper. Pootoogook spent the first two decades of his life in a series of seasonal camps, but in 1957 his father’s poor health forced the family (which now included his wife Shooyoo and their first child) to move to the growing settlement of Cape Dorset, dramatically altering their lifestyle. Shortly after arriving in Dorset, Pootoogook met James Houston, who was in the process of establishing the North’s first printmaking studio. Working with Houston and a handful of other young Inuit printmakers, he learned to translate drawings by the community’s artists into limited edition prints. Pootoogook’s own career as a graphic artist began in the early 1960s, when he started making drawings himself and selling them to the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, an organization he helped to establish. Later he also began making carvings from stone. In 1980 he was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, and in 2010 he was the recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award. Artistically productive until the end of his life, Pootoogook died in November 2010.
From the beginning, Pootoogook showed a strong interest in portraying the various forms of wildlife that inhabit the North. Though self-taught, he developed an accomplished and distinctive style of draughtmanship, rendering his subjects in greater detail than most Inuit artists did. His skilful drawings of birds were particularly popular with southern viewers, leading admirers of his work to nickname him “the North’s Audubon.” As the writer Ingo Hessel notes, Pootoogook’s wildlife works speak not only to the artist’s familiarity with his subjects’ appearance but also to his expert awareness of their seasonal habits: “It is Kananginak’s perception of animal intelligence (more than simple instinct) that makes his wildlife portrayals so special.” In the 1980s, Pootoogook became interested in documenting the more recent social history of the Inuit. Many images from this period depict the new forms of technology that have transformed northern life over the last 100 years, including modern machinery such a skidoos and All Terrain Vehicles. Some images also portray the outsiders—missionaries, police and traders—who were the agents of this change in the last century. Serious though his subjects sometimes are, the vast majority of Pootoogook’s works are infused with a gentle humour, a hallmark of his expression.
Selected Other Exhibitions
Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection,
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto ON, April 2 -
August 21, 2011
Kananginak Pootoogook, Museum of Inuit
Art, Toronto ON, February 15 - May 31, 2010
Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, ON)
National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, ON)
Winnipeg Art Gallery (Winnipeg, MB)
Robert Kardosh, "The Other Kananginak
Pootoogook," Inuit Art Quarterly,