BENJAMIN CHEE CHEE
oil on canvas
signed and dated ‘73
29.5 ins x 24.75 ins; 74.9 cms x 62.9 cms
A critical food source for Indigenous people throughout history, the buffalo also plays a central role in many oral histories as both a physical and spiritual force. A symbol of honour, strength, endurance and generosity, the buffalo and the buffalo hunt are common themes in both indigenous and settler paintings. Benjamin Chee Chee (1944-1977) inverts this typical representation by creating an abstract, non-figurative imagining of the buffalo in a swirling, brightly coloured geometric design.
After a troubled youth of alcohol-related crimes, time in prison and a burdensome search for his own identity, Chee Chee moved to Montreal from his hometown of Temagami, where his interest and talent for art was fostered by the prominent portrait artist Dorothy Watt. His time in Montreal proved extremely influential, and by the time he moved to Ottawa in the early 1970s, it was clear that his star was already on the rise. Painted in 1973, when Chee Chee’s style was still largely geometric and inspired by current trends in modern abstraction, Buffalo Series is a clear example of his early work using block print motifs. Chee Chee did not want to be confined to any one particular style, group or movement. He sought his own individual voice and aesthetic above all else which was perhaps his way of filling the void of detachment and bereavement he felt after a childhood growing up without parents and a tenuous relationship with his cultural heritage.
After a life filled with wild highs and devastating lows, fueled by alcoholism, Chee Chee committed suicide at the age of 32, at the height of his career, leaving the art world and Canadian public reeling.
Private Collection, Teeswater, Ontario