Dream Weaver: The Compelling Artwork of Kalum Teke Dan
The Blackfoot artist's work is a visually striking, contemporary take on Indigenous culture and traditions, typically underscored by a sense of the spiritual.
I have been painting for more than 25 years and am mostly self-taught. Much of my work is based on personal reflection and observation surrounding the spirituality of my People and the energy around us. My roots are with the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta, and although I was raised in “the big city,” my family exerted a strong influence on my early in my life, which led me to an appreciation of Indigenous culture, teachings and artistic traditions. My grandparents—both very talented artists known internationally for their bead work and traditional regalia—inspired and encouraged me to seek out my own path, and to work hard at whatever challenge I took on.
I was raised in Calgary by my mother, Joanne, a strong-willed and determined woman who seldom missed a day of work. In fact, after 30 years of service, she was the first Aboriginal woman to retire from her job with the city of Calgary. She was my grounding force, my rock, who kept me on the straight and narrow. Equally important to me while growing up, she always pushed me to continue with my art. I believe that her encouragement and support helped enable me to succeed and become the person I am today.
As a youngster, I dreamed a lot about art, and after painting a few pieces in my mid-teens, I finally came to realize that I really did have some talent. I believe that art is just a part of me, a piece of who I am. After selling some of my work before the age of 20, I realized that painting and creating art was all I wanted to do—and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I actually did go to school for a short time, having enrolled in the Alberta College of the Arts in my early 20s. A few months into the program, though, I decided to set out on my own—to seek my own path in life.
I’ve since put a lot of effort into refining the finer techniques of creating art on canvas via watercolours, oils and acrylics. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel extensively and work with many different galleries over the years, both of which gave me opportunities to showcase my work in front of a variety of audiences.
Many of my paintings are based on real people—individuals who portray inner strength or demonstrate an overall sense of pride in themselves, their culture and those they hold dear. I often draw inspiration from the subjects I paint, which in turn spurs me on to new ideas and projects.
The animal world, especially entities closely associated with Indigenous teachings and beliefs, is also a primary, or perhaps I should say primal source of inspiration for me. Here, my aim is to not only capture the beauty and physicality of the animal on canvas, but also to depict its spirit.
One of the things I enjoy most nowadays is the range of creative projects that come my way. For example, last summer when I was exhibiting at the Calgary Stampede, I was invited by author Diana Frost to participate in her new book, Colouring it Forward: Discover Blackfoot Nation Art and Wisdom. I’d never even thought of working on a colouring book before, and yet I ended up being part of this wonderful collaboration with Diana, as well as Red Deer artist Ryan Willert and Blood Reserve Elder, Camille Pablo Russell. With Diana working her magic compiling the text, Ryan and I created the accompanying images in the form of black-and-white outlines for colouring-book enthusiasts to complete at their leisure. Camille, a spiritual counsellor with the Elbow River Healing Lodge, had perhaps the most important role of all on the project—ensuring that the cultural components were accurate and authentic. In fact, the book was largely based on the stories, cultural traditions and ancestral wisdom that Camille learned from his grandparents and continues to share with all who express an interest. It was a unique project that was a joy to work on and was well-received by the public, selling out before Christmastime. Diana saw to it that a portion of the proceeds from this book, and others in the series, is used to support the efforts of Indigenous artists.
Another recent project that afforded me an opportunity to express my creativity in a different way was a mural I was commissioned to do in 2017 by NorQuest College in Edmonton. The mural, named “Power Spirit,” was designed to be etched into the glass facade of the college’s new Singhmar Centre for Learning, which among many other features houses a new library and bookstore, and an Indigenous student centre that’s ventilated to allow for the use of sage and sweetgrass during smudging and other cultural ceremonies. It was an honour to be associated even in a small way with such an ambitious and worthwhile undertaking.
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In addition to my own efforts to evolve as an artist, I try my best to support and mentor emerging artists—just as I was supported in so many different ways when I was starting out. I believe that anyone who shares the dream of becoming an artist will need—and deserves—all the support he or she can get along the way. Giving something back is the best way to keep moving forward.
Visit Kalum’s website to see more of his work.
Next, find out how one residential school survivor is exploring his dark past through colourful paintings.