Carl Beam

Carl Beam
Untitled, c. 1997
Mixed media on Plexiglas, 30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Untitled, c. 1997
Mixed media on Plexiglas, 30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Untitled, c. 1997
Mixed media on Plexiglas, 30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Untitled, c. 1997
Mixed media on Plexiglas, 30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Untitled, c. 1997
Mixed media on Plexiglas, 30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Fragile Skies, c. 1997
Photo-based lithograph, 76 x 56 cm (30 x 22 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Rulers, c. 1997
Photo-based lithograph, 76 x 56 cm (30 x 22 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Traffic, c. 1997
Photo-based lithograph, 76 x 56 cm (30 x 22 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Carl Beam
Family, c. 1997
Photo-based lithograph, 76 x 56 cm (30 x 22 in)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre

Internationally acclaimed Anishinaabe artist Carl Beam (1943–2005) was born in M’Chigeeng First Nation in Manitoulin, Ontario. He studied at the Kootenay School of Art and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Victoria. He spent many years travelling and making artwork alongside his wife, Ann, and daughter, Anong, before settling in Peterborough, Ontario. Beam was awarded the Governor General’s award in Visual and Media Arts shortly before his death in 2005 in recognition of his role as one of Canada’s most influential and significant artists.

Beam’s artworks combine source images from political, spiritual, and environmental realms to portray both his personal hardships and political beliefs. His practice expresses the interconnectedness between the natural world and Anishinaabe culture, as well as a profound concern for human and animal rights. Through his art, Beam fought for equality and continued to challenge the Eurocentric perspective of the Indigenous peoples until his final days. 

These recently acquired works exemplify the experimental nature of Beam’s practice, with techniques including screen printing, photo-etching, solvent transfer, heat transfer and photo emulsion. The small format of the mixed-media works on Plexiglas enabled Beam to work quickly and intuitively. Scratches into the surface and hand-written text are evidence of the artist’s hand that give the works a sense of immediacy. The images, presented in unconventional and surprising pairings, are derived from various sources—newspapers, science text books, historical and personal photographs. A strong political and intellectual undercurrent permeates these intimate pieces. As Beam comments, "My works are like little puzzles, interesting little games. I play a game of dreaming ourselves as each other. In this we find out that we're all basically human...".

Larger in scale, the four photo-based lithographs embody similar concepts to the Plexiglas works. All artist proofs, these prints accumulate many sources images into a “taxonomy” of meaning. Here, Beam contrasts recurring images from different historical moments as a way of reexamining how histories are told. Some of the images recur, such as the traffic light, bees, and running elk. They gather context as they are repeated in different compositions and juxtaposed with other images. Beam’s distinct visual language explores the space between Indigenous and other cultural worldviews, and opens our minds to a more complex understanding of who we are.