BC's First Nations Artists
Name: Darrel Amos
Haida artist Darrel Amos, 46, has been drawing since he was 6, but his art really developed during his years in prison. There are all kinds of ways that artists develop their skills, but over the course of a difficult life, the many short-term prison terms Darrel spent for various kinds of theft, gave him the time and materials to fulfill his artistic potential.
It has been over 10 years since Darrel took control of his life, though he still lives at the edges of comfort and stability in the Downtown Eastside. His works are increasingly being recognized, and he often has commissions for special pieces.
Recently Darrel was approached to do a painting that would portray a special relationship between the client commissioning the piece and her spiritual mentor. Darrel heard the story and immediately the image came to mind—it would be an eagle protecting an eaglet, a very young eagle. The resulting piece was a very striking head of an eagle, but instead of a tongue, there is a very small eaglet resting safely in his beak.
Darrel also responds to the outside world around him. When there was news about a major eclipse of the sun, he created a painting of a sun with tears dripping down its face, as a smaller moon figure appeared to pass in front of it.
Darrel was originally inspired by an older brother who was also an artist in their home in Haida Gwaii, at the very northern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Though his brother let go of his own work, Darrel liked drawing and painting so much that he decided that this is what he would be. He would draw constantly, and his teachers in grade school recognized his talent and encouraged him.
“I would win every contest, like best poster about forest fire prevention.” He would take the lead out of wooden pencils, completely covering his desk with the lead. Then he would use an eraser to “etch” a drawing. This was sophisticated way for any artist, much less a child, to find a way to express his art. It was very much in keeping with traditional art forms of the Haida, with the emphasis on lines and outlines of what is being portrayed.
When Darrel got into trouble with the law, he found that his drawings were very valuable to other prisoners and to the guards. They were allowed to buy his art and he could put the money into a savings account that the authorities hold for inmates. He could buy tobacco or more art supplies. He was allowed to keep the supplies with him, which was a great privilege in the prisons, because the staff knew he could be trusted with it and would put it into wonderful use.
These days Darrel’s work is featured in an on-line art gallery. There is also a new line of his work of embroidered garments including sweatshirts, T-shirts, and hoodies. Darrel is given full credit on the labels, and he earns royalties as well.
Prison is a long way behind Darrel, but the future is bright, as he combines his artistic vision and his hard work to create pieces of which he can be proud. “I have to be impressed by my work – if I’m not impressed, I know others won’t be.”