When he set out on his artistic vocation some 15 or 20 years ago, Dion Daniels harkened to words of advice from his grandmother. “My grandma was telling me that I was given a gift. She didn’t say I was gifted, but I was given a gift, and this gift is not for me to keep, it’s for me to share. So I can’t keep it, it’s got to go out.”
He hopes, when you look into one of his paintings, you might discover your own animal spirit in the representations of Coast Salish wildlife. “Like if someone likes to joke around a lot, they might be connected to the raven. He’s the Trickster,” he said. “And if somebody is serious and doesn’t joke around, he might be connected to the eagle because he’s more about power and wisdom.”
His art reveals a spiritual bond between the land and its animals, as well as a respect for elders. A member of the Cowichan First Nation, he attributes the strength of his spiritual and cultural beliefs to his Galiano Island upbringing.
Inspired by the controversial art of Sue Coleman, he frequently puts realistic representations on the same canvas as stylized Northwest Coast designs, using a technique that blends the background colours on his canvases.
“I pour the paint on one side, all the colours I’m going to use, and then I kind of like squeegee it across and it blends the colours together,” he said. That creates a smooth surface with no brush marks, “and then I put the art on top of it after.”
Sharing art is sharing cultural and spiritual beliefs. “I mostly want to share what I have. Share art. I’m proud of who I am, where I come from and I’m proud of my elder,” he said. And he hopes the connection goes both ways, that he can “make my ancestors proud of what I do.”
Every artist puts a lot of him or herself into each work. But one painting in particular is a sort of self portrait of Daniels: Killer Whale. “My grandmother told me that we’re descendants from the killer whale. So she told me that if I ever see a killer whale out on the water, you never know, it might be one of your own relatives”
(Adapted from an article that appeared in Cowichan Valley Voice Magazine)