Krystle Silverfox moved from BC to the Yukon — to a town so small it doesn’t have an art supply store – CBC.ca | Candle Made Easy

Krystle Silverfox is among the nominated artists for the 2022 Sobey Art Awards. (Krystle Silver Fox)

Picture this: you’ve just landed an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. This is the kind of news you’ve been waiting your entire career for, and you can’t wait to get started. There’s only one thing stopping you: art supplies! There isn’t a single place in town where you can buy them.

Back when she lived in the Vancouver area Krystle Silver Fox probably could not have imagined being stuck in this particular situation. She grew up in BC, studied there and most recently completed an MFA from Simon Fraser University. But family ties to Selkirk First Nation (plus a job offer at the Yukon School of Visual Arts) brought the artist to the area recently — where she was when the folks at the Sobey Art Awards reached out with some life-changing news: Silverfox made it onto the 2022 shortlist.

The honor comes with a check for $25,000 and a spot on the aforementioned Ottawa show. This fall, the winner of the $100,000 grand prize will be announced at a gala ceremony. But until then, Silverfox still has a lot to do here in the present. On the one hand there is the question of making new works of art – plus these Arctic Arts Summit, an event she will attend between June 27th and 29th. We met her over the phone late last week.

CBC Arts: Hello! Are you in Whitehorse right now? I saw something on your Instagram about an artist residency there…

Krystle Silver Fox: Yes, I’ll do it at the by the end of the month Jenni house. I’m also doing an artist residency later in the summer, so I’m just going to spend the whole summer here.

What’s it like there?

KS: I’m in a 100 year old cabin that has been restored. I would say it’s almost like a bachelor suite. And I was painting there and thinking about what I’m going to do with the Sobey Prize exhibition.

Were you there at Jenni House when you got the news about Sobey’s shortlist?

KS: I can’t remember to be honest. Everything happened so fast and I really never let it sink in until they made the announcement.

The National Gallery emailed me and said, “Congratulations, you’ve made the shortlist. You need to keep this under wraps until we announce it publicly.” I believe that was a week before the actual announcement.

Was it hard having to keep the news a secret?

KS: Um, well, I didn’t really believe it, so it wasn’t that hard for me. (laughs)

Photo of a still life taken outdoors with a coniferous forest in the background.  Teapots and teacups are arranged on cards.  Copper pennies are stacked throughout the composition.  Crumpled Hudson's Bay striped napkins are among the items collected, as is an abalone shell with a wisp of sage and tufts of fur.
Krystle Silverfox, Royal Tease, 2020. Inkjet print, 56″ x 34″. © Krystle Silver Fox (Krystle Silver Fox)

Well, congratulations! It’s wonderful news. The award is billed as one of the most prestigious art awards in Canada, but what does that actually mean for you – personally, professionally? What doors do you hope to open?

KS: When I went to art school, all the people I looked up to – all the artists and teachers and mentors – everyone seemed to be associated with that award. And so I always thought it would be great if I ever got nominated – because it means a gallery or curator believes in your work and wants to support you.

The money is great but the price itself is so prestigious.

About the prize money – what is your plan for it?

KS: For the $25,000? Oh. I’m just making sure I’ve paid my rent and bills. As an artist you don’t really have a monthly income. For me I’m something like a gig worker artist: I do artist residencies, work on art exhibitions. It would be nice if I could make a living with this money.

The teachers and mentors you just mentioned, the artists you looked up to and associated with the award: who are they?

KS: Dan Starling would be at the top of my list. He teaches at UBC and was my photography teacher when I was there. He was longlisted for the Sobey Price when I first met him and I have always admired his work and practice because he is very experimental.

I recently reconnected with him through the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture in Dawson, and I was just chatting with him about some ideas for the National Gallery show in November. He stopped by my studio at Jenni House.

It’s great to talk to him because I’m so new to all of this. He understands the pressure on you, if that makes sense. It’s definitely faster than I expected.

What is fast paced? The schedule you were given to produce work for the National Gallery?

KS: Oh yeah. That’s one thing. I really need to step on the gas for this project.

But so much attention is also paid to my art and my practice. A lot of people want interviews, or they want to see my artwork, or they want to collaborate with me in some way. I’m a quiet, lingering artist, so it’s very new to me.

The National Gallery Exhibition: What can you tell me about your compilation?

KS: I’m thinking about how to talk to the concept of land and the embodiment of land.

I’m thinking about using cement – maybe found cement. Or actually, I really hope I can make a concrete mix out of the local clay in Whitehorse. That would be really cool, but at the same time the deadline is in a few weeks. I must have a concrete plan for the gallery. I think I have until August to actually do things.

I like to make art by thinking about the land and consumption – our connection to the land and to different materials. For the Yukon PrizeI have a piece called Not everything that glitters is gold. It is a Hudson’s Bay blanket cut in half with the thread reaching to the floor and piled with copper pennies.

Everything about the piece is copper: copper nails, copper wire, copper pennies. A lot of my work reflects the land, I think, through conceptual material objects. I like to think of them as “ownership” – belonging like “you belong”. you belong somewhere You have a story. It has a cultural meaning and is not just an object.

What cultural significance did the copper in this piece have?

KS: So, my First Nation, one material we would trade was copper. We traded with the Tlingit forever before the settlers came. Copper is an important material for all Yukon First Nations – plus we now have several copper mines. It is a source of income for the First Nation.

Last year you moved to the Yukon permanently, right? Vancouver to Dawson City?

KS: Yes!

How did it live there? Has it changed the way you work in any way?

KS: Well, Dawson was quite a challenge given his location. There aren’t any art shops there, so you have to loot or build pretty much anything you want to use, and that’s what got my practice to really think about found objects. I think that’s why I’m kind of drawn to concrete as the material for this next piece. I think about what found objects can say about our lives.

But yes, that was a challenge. For example, if you want to paint on a giant canvas, you either have to make it yourself or pay a lot of money to have it shipped. It is different. I’ve gotten so used to Vancouver.

Actually for this project I’m doing for the National Gallery I have to go back to Vancouver to get materials because I’m doing another Hudson’s Bay quilt. It will go with the concrete. There’s no Hudson’s Bay up here, so I have to fly back. It’s a lot of legwork, but I’m sure it’s going to be great.

I heard you will be there Arctic Arts Summit in this week. What can you tell me about your plans? How do you take part in the events?

KS: It’s great because it seems like artists come to Whitehorse from all over the north!

I am currently in two different ones art exhibitions as part of the summit. (There’s a whole bunch of art shows and pop-up shows and whatnot.) I’m doing an open studio art talk Stormy Bradley. She is a bead embroiderer; She’s gorgeous. Together we’ll have a very casual drop-in where you can talk to the artists and maybe we’ll get the fire pit going and do s’mores. (laughs)

I look forward to meeting new artists and making new contacts. The North is so huge, but it’s full of small artist communities everywhere. So it will be great to connect with people. I’m confident this will become a more common thing.

Photograph of artwork on a white wall.  The canvas has been spray painted.  The lower half of the composition features a thicket of overlapping ovoid shapes in grey, black and burgundy, suggesting the iconography of indigenous art.  Long, gnarled black ribbons gather at the bottom of the canvas and hang down at varying lengths.
Krystle Silver Fox. Reconcile This!, 2013. Spray paint on canvas. As the artist writes on Instagram, “The piece is a visual depiction of the impossibility of unraveling the mess left in the Canadian state by the dorm school system, the ’60s shovel, and the ongoing child incarceration. The fringes are knotted, the molding line is broken. It symbolizes the loss of culture, community, family, country. This piece marks the beginning of my artistic journey into abstraction and my love of the edge. I may have been the artist behind this painting, but this painting really made an impact on me.” (Krystle Silver Fox)

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

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