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Chee Chee, Benjamin
Northern Bear
c. 1974

Benjamin Chee Chee was an Indigenous artist of Ojibwe descent from Temagami, who died tragically by suicide at age thirty-two after a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Largely self-taught, Chee Chee began making art after moving to Montreal in 1965 and had his first major exhibition in Ottawa in 1973. While this early exhibition featured abstracted geometric motifs in bright colours, the artist is best known for the stylised forms of the Black Geese Portfolio, the last body of work produced before his death. These heavily reduced, linear depictions of Canada Geese were known as his “Benjy” birds and have become an enduring image through numerous graphic reproductions.

Chee Chee has imbued Northern Bear with the vitality and movement typical of his subjects. While it is not executed in the same style as his later, more refined work, it exhibits the simplicity and minimalistic design that helped set Chee Chee apart from his contemporaries. Despite his positioning as a second-generation artist of the Woodland school, Chee Chee continuously sought to develop a style all his own. He rejected the legends and narratives of artists like Norval Morrisseau and pushed his subjects towards abstraction. Chee Chee has stated that “My drawings of birds and animals have no symbolic meaning from the past. To me they are creatures of the present and I draw them because I like their clean lines and beautiful shapes.”

 
Chee Chee, Benjamin
Temagami ON 1944–Ottawa ON 1977
Northern Bear
c. 1974
Acrylic on watercolour paper
32.8 x 52.7 cm
Gift of Guardian Capital Group Limited, 2020
63-015.10

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