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An Interview with Associate Professor David Garneau


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2016/11/22


An interview with Associate Professor David Garneau. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic personal and familial background; differentiation of critical writing, curation, drawing, and painting; most personal fulfillment from a practice; contemporary Aboriginal identity, history, masculinity, and nature and topics of most interest within them; main conversations around contemporary Aboriginal identity; best definition of a healthy masculinity in the modern world, especially in Canada; meaning of national representation of painting collections in distinguished places; the process for the origination, development, and presentation of thematic curations; contents and intended messages of talks around the world; memorable and enjoyable moments with students and faculty; advice for young gifted artists; recommendations on mastering individual expression and technique for art; responsibilities with public recognition; responsibility to the arts community; most emotionally ‘taxing’ part of artistic work; and feelings and thoughts in conclusion.

Keywords: David Garneau, Fine Arts, and The University of Regina.

An Interview with Associate Professor David Garneau: Associate Professor, Faculty of Fine Arts in the Visual Arts Department, The University of Regina[1],[2],[3]

*Footnotes in and after the interview, &bibliography & citation style listing after the interview.*

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your personal and familial background reside?[4]

I live with my family in Treaty Four Territory, on the Northern Great Plains of Turtle Island. We live in Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, Canada. It is a small city (221,407) in a large (651,036 km²) province but a relatively small population (1.13 million). I was born in Treaty Six Territory, Edmonton, Alberta. My mother is from Vancouver and my father’s family were among the original Métis settlers, in 1871, of Edmonton; there is a Garneau district named for them—for Laurent and Eleanor Garneau, my great, great grandparents. I am an English speaking Métis.

2. Your work emphasizes critical writing, curation, drawing, and painting. What differentiates each practice?

I have always seen these as intertwined and complimentary practices. I am fortunate to have a generous studio/office at the University of Regina. The space allows me to work on research, writing, meeting with students and colleagues, and paint all in one location. I can quickly turn from one activity to another without losing much time. The space allows me to be more productive and yet also intuitive in my work methods. I can shift from one activity to another as suits my thoughts.

More than 25 years ago, a journalist wrote a profile titled “The Myriad Careers of David Garneau.” It seemed absurd at the time; I did not think much was getting done, in multiple directions. I now see that each direction is connected and necessarily part of a larger project.

Writing is the most difficult because I try to write somewhere between an academic position and as an artist. I am not an academic writer. I write for occasions and need; to specific audiences. I am analytical by nature but it is a  logic continuously disturbed by intuition and relationships with people otherwise composed. Art, for me, is form of problem solving and making. While making art, I feel in connection with multiple art histories, theories, and artists. It is a space of more play than I allow in writing. However, much of my art concerns Métis folks, so I often feel more responsible than playful in much of that work. While some of Métis work has a playful and provocative function, much of it fueled by a sense of responsibility to community.

3. What practice brings the most personal fulfillment for you?

They are interconnected and often happen at the same time. While painting I am thinking about curation and writing. While writing, I wish I were painting. They are all fulfilling. I take inordinate pleasure in a beautiful sentence or passage of paint. I get deep enjoyment from coaching students through their projects. While most of my fun in at my computer and easel, I increasingly enjoy that some of my work is well received, that it impacts people beyond myself.

4. You engage in subject matter such as contemporary Aboriginal identity, history, masculinity, and nature. What topics within each subject matter most interests you? Why?

My interests oscillate. I am interested in patterns that echo throughout all these areas. I am interested in examining the structure of things and relationships. I am perhaps most interested in how hierarchies, rhetoric, belief, and power function similarly in the construction of identity, the maintenance of culture, the formation of gender, and the construction and perception of nature. I am intrigued how metaphysical claims and experiences disrupt, but also, inform materialist thinking and structures; particularly how marginalized persons and communities use revealed truth to resist the materialist, logocentric, and exploitative strategies of dominant classes.

5. In general, what seem like the main conversations, academic and public, around contemporary Aboriginal identity?

There is a complex and deep division between actual (and perceived) academics and non-academic Indigenous people. The divide is both a class difference and a difference in world-view. Those who maintain and live the, for example, Cree worldview, are at foundational odds with academic ways of knowing and being. And professors who try to maintain, for example, a Cree worldview face enormous stress to be different and to exploit their knowledge and people. I am interested in modes particularly art and writing that attempts to bridge this gap, create true collaborations, or at least reveal the complexity of Indigenous identity beyond capture.

6. What best defines a healthy masculinity in the modern world, especially throughout Canada?

Introspection; self-conscious discussion among men and boys, and then with women. I feel the need for this work most profoundly, but have not been able to engage the task beyond the personal in effective ways.  I have learned and unlearned and troubled masculinity in working partnerships with female curators and artists; in relation with my partner, Sylvia Ziemann (also an artist); with my children; my early work in daycare, and teaching in majority female settings—and it might not be a masculinity treasured by many other sorts of men. I don’t know.

7. You have painting collections inthe Canadian Museum of Civilization, The Canadian Parliament, Indian and Inuit Art Centre, the Glenbow Museum, the Mackenzie Art Gallery and many other public and private collections.”[5] This is a distinguished list of places. What does this national representation mean to you?

I am honoured to have paintings in these places; but more than an honour, it is strategic. Having contemporary Indigenous art in public collections, having political Indigenous work in collections that have curatorial programs ensures that Indigenous being and concerns will be part of that region’s patrimony and future discourse. I once asked Alex Janvier why he let his paintings be collected by a oil company that was ravaging his territory. He said “They don’t know what they have.” He saw his works as evidence: his presence in their space, but also, many of those paintings are maps of the Cold Lake region. They are a form of land claim. At base, my goal is to have Métis presence in public spaces, and to show that we are contemporary people. But more than simply occupy these spaces with aesthetic content, I also want to disturb the assumptions that have regulated these places, collections, and the imaginaries that enable them and their multiple subjects. Each new thing brought into the museum creates a subtle disturbance in the collection. And some things create dramatic disturbances.

8. You have curated more by theme including The End of the World (as we know it), Picture Windows: New Abstraction, Transcendent Squares, Sophisticated Folk, Contested Histories, Making it Like a Man!, Graphic Visions, and TEXTiles.[6] What is the process for the origination, development, and presentation of thematic curations?

Each is different. Lately, I have been working with Indigenous women to co-curate exhibitions in Regina, Sydney, and New York. I appreciate the dialogic nature of these relationships; the give and take; the evolving of ideas, and especially working through our similar ethical and community-minded concerns. My/our usual approach begins with knowing the field, who is making what. Then, doing research to find out what we don’t know that might bear some relation to what we do know. Many of the group shows work in this thematic way. I have also produced many solo or two-person exhibitions that are not. I think of most curation as a form of public discourse in which thinkers in the art medium communicate their ideas of current topics. I like thematic exhibitions because they include and exceed individual projects.

9. You give talks around the world. What tend to be the contents and intended messages of them?

I am an occasional speaker, one who rises to the occasion as best I can. Lately, I have talked about how museum collection mandates have lead to the production of hoards which distort contemporary practices; how museums and art galleries are designed to disable; how we might Indigenize these spaces, not for reasons of fairness and equal representation but because Indigenous ways of being and knowing are more humane. I have also talked about how Indigenous identity is based on migration rather than static location; I critique decolonial theory as primarily designed for truly post-colonial territories and to improve the lives of Settler peoples, and promote notions of non-colonial practice which focus on Indigenous ways of being and knowing, rather than focus on the deconstruction of European ways. I am also interested in deep readings of art works, in showing how contemporary Indigenous create haptic and intellectual objects, how they shape ideas and identities through non-propositional, non-verbal means.

10. You taught Drawing, Graduate Theory, and Painting courses. For five years, at Alberta College of Art and Design, you were a sessional instructor in the humanities and studio art. You are an associate professor at The University of Regina. What were, and have been, some of the most memorable and enjoyable moments with students and faculty?

Teaching is at the center of my practice. I am continuously humbled by new minds and talents. I never take this job for granted. I don’t reduce it to a job in the usual sense. While I love lecturing to large groups, sharing ideas, I especially like working one-to-one, or in small studio groups, helping students see and develop their practice. I enjoy the technical aspects of painting and drawing, but it is helping students understand their work in a larger sense—within the artworlds, as a life-long trajectory, in relation to ideas in other fields, in relation to community—that I find the most engaging.

11. Any advice for young gifted artists?

As early as you can, commit to a practice and project that can sustain and exceed you. That is, discover a practice or medium that you can master but that will offer life-long challenges. This focus and depth will sustain you despite vagarities of the market or intellectual climate. Focus on a project that is more than your internal processes, that includes a deep engagement in the world. Nurture and be nurtured by mentors, colleagues, and community. Travel. Take care of business.

12. Any recommendations on mastering individual expression and technique for art?

No. I’m not much into individual expression.

13. You have moderate exposure in the media.[7],[8] What responsibilities come with this public recognition?

Very moderate exposure. I’m not keen on it unless it is in support of larger issues. For example, my performance work—especially the Louis Riel/John A. Macdonald works—is generally in public, non-art world settings. I want to reach a more general public, and for that media exposure is central, so I welcome it in those cases. I am less interested in media that wants to focus on my work as autobiography.

14. What about to the arts community?

I spent the 90s helping to build up the Calgary arts scene, primarily through critical writing. I co-founded Artichoke and Cameo magazines, and wrote locally and nationally about the Alberta scene. For the past 15 years, I have focused on contemporary Indigenous art and widened my scope to include the rest of Canada and into Australia. I see public thinking about Indigenous art as a primary responsibility.

15. What seems like the most emotionally ‘taxing’ part of artistic work for you?

It is easy to relax into a trope that has decreasing currency because it is more pleasurable. I’d rather paint conventional still life and landscape painting. They have their own challenges but they don’t have much engagement beyond pleasure. Keep up with current thinking and making is heard work. Being somewhat in the public eye—small public, smiling eyes (usually)—you worry about making a mistake, saying an irresponsible thing. I’m an introvert. I prefer being alone in the studio, or one-on-one. Public speaking, being in public as a known person, is draining. However, if I am in Indigenous or art or idea—and especially Indigenous, art, and idea company!—I am in bliss. I am energized by good company.

16. Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

As above, I am uncomfortable talking about myself. I prefer if readers were to look up my art and essays.

Thank you for your time, Professor Garneau.


  1. CBC News Ottawa. (2016, May 4). Carmen Papalia, blind artist, says museums need to be more accessible. Retrieved from
  2. Latimer, K. (2016, May 11). Artist says Regina’s $10K for Taylor Field tribute at Mosaic Stadium not enough. Retrieved from
  3. The University of Regina. (2016). David Garneau Online Portfolio. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Associate Professor, Faculty of Fine Arts in the Visual Arts Department, The University of Regina.

[2] B.F.A. (Distinction, 1989), Painting and Drawing, University of Calgary; M.A. (1993), English Literature, University of Calgary.

[3] Photograph courtesy of Professor David Garneau.

[4] David Garneau (2016) states:

David Garneau‘s work focuses on painting, drawing, curation and critical writing. He often engages issues of nature, history, masculinity and contemporary Aboriginal identity. His paintings are in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, The Canadian Parliament, Indian and Inuit Art Centre, the Glenbow Museum, the Mackenzie Art Gallery and many other public and private collections. He curated several large group exhibitions: The End of the World (as we know it); Picture Windows: New Abstraction; Transcendent Squares; Sophisticated Folk; Contested Histories; Making it Like a Man! and Graphic Visions and TEXTiles.

He has recently given talks in Melbourne, Adelaide, New York, San Diego, Sacramento, and key note lectures in Sydney, Toronto, Edmonton and Sault Ste Marie. Garneau is currently working on curatorial and writing projects featuring contemporary Aboriginal art exchanges between Canada and Australia. His teaching responsibilities include Painting, Drawing and Graduate Theory courses. Before joining the faculty at the U of R, he spent five years as a sessional instructor in humanities and studio art at the Alberta College of Art and Design.

The University of Regina. (2016). David Garneau. Retrieved from

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] CBC News Ottawa. (2016, May 4). Carmen Papalia, blind artist, says museums need to be more accessible. Retrieved from

[8] Latimer, K. (2016, May 11). Artist says Regina’s $10K for Taylor Field tribute at Mosaic Stadium not enough. Retrieved from


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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