Our next Artist You Need To Know is Jane Ash Poitras.

Jane Ash Poitras is a Cree painter and printmaker : her work is focused upon expressing the experience of Aboriginal people in Canada in ways that are both personal but also address larger issues. Poitras’ artworks – often monumental in scale – are layered with handwritten text, vintage photos, stamps and newspaper clippings arranged, collaged and sometimes in contrast with and augmenting the surfaces rendered in oil and acrylic paint .

“…each blank canvas is an invitation to a journey of discovery. I may begin with an idea of what the final destination—the completed painting—may be, but I’m always open to the unexpected. As Carl Beam said, the art of placement is a spiritual act. Each step in the creative process may reveal unexpected choices that require decisions. The final decision for each piece is to know when it is resolved, when it is finished.”



Born in 1951 in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Poitras’ mother succumbed to tuberculosis when Poitras was still a child. She was adopted by an elderly German woman and would grow up in Edmonton, Alberta in a predominantly Catholic environment. Poitras earned a B.Sc. in microbiology at the University of Alberta (1977) before pursuing a career in the visual arts. She holds a BFA (focused on printmaking) from the University of Alberta (1983) and would complete a Master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City.

Poitras has exhibited widely, with over 30 solo exhibitions and 60 group exhibitions throughout her career. She was also a teacher at the University of Alberta for an extended period, and has lectured at a number of institutions and spaces across North America.

She has said that “my art is a reclamation process” : this can be seen both in her formal style, with how there are elements of ‘collage’ that spur conversations between the images she appropriates and the painted and drawn parts of her compositions. But this is also a statement that applies to the political discourse that is intrinsic to Poitras’ art and how it offers a more complete and truthful social history.



“I didn’t intend to be political. But somebody has to be the troublemaker and it might as well be me. I have done that all my life and that is how I got respect. I am fearless. I’m a law-abiding…person, but I don’t mind telling people off, the ones who deserve to be told off. But they know when they deserve it and I embrace them with love and spiritually heal them. I believe art can be spiritually healing.”

In an interview with National Gallery Magazine, when asked about her influences, Poitras cited previously featured Artist You Need To Know “Carl Beam [and] Joan Cardinal Schubert [a trailblazing artist, activist, curator, and writer], who was also my best friend. We spoke every day on the phone for 30 years until she died. Fritz Sholder [a previously featured Artist You Need To Know] was the first artist who really brought the Americans away from the concept of the “romanticized Indian”. These were the artists, who were really crashing the gallery doors open and saying “hey, include us in your collections because we are just as worthy as all the other artists you have in there.”



Her work can be found in a number of collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, Royal Ontario Museum, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Brooklyn Museum, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University), McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Royal Alberta Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Alberta, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Vancouver Art Gallery, Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Glenbow Museum, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Agnes Etherington Art Centre and Art Windsor Essex.

Poitras has been recognized with numerous awards not solely for her artwork but also for her advocacy and generosity around Indigenous issues. These include the Order of Canada (2017); Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal; Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Calgary; Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from University of Alberta; being elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; Alberta Centennial Medal; National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Arts and Culture, now the Indspire Awards (2006); University of Alberta Alumni Award of Excellence and the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award.



Edmonton Journal visual arts critic Janice Ryan offered the following about an exhibition of Poitras’ artwork : “The work is engaging for its beauty alone…But up close is where the cerebral journey begins, unraveling fragments of information, both subtle and in-your-face pronouncements, to reveal the story this imaginative artist is telling.”