For the past six years, Gitxsan artist Clint Williams has been keeping busy in Kelowna, BC, producing paintings in the Northwest Coast tradition.
“Sometimes I start early in the morning and paint all day and night, and sometimes I can paint for three days straight,” Williams said.
All of Williams’ artwork has been produced outdoors: as a homeless man, he keeps an eye out for theft and inclement weather as he strives to finish his creations.
According to the Hambleton Galleries websiteLocated in downtown Kelowna, Williams embarked on his artistic journey in the 1990s with a four-year program at the Kitanmax School of Northwest Coast Art in the northwestern British Columbia community of Hazelton. He then went on to teach art at Gitsegukla Elementary School, about 12 miles south of Hazelton.
Williams’ creations consist of numerous freehand acrylic paintings featuring animals such as eagles, ravens, hummingbirds, and whales.
The exact time Williams reached the Okanagan is unknown.
But Joshua Peters, owner and director of Hambleton Galleries, says he began acquiring Williams’ works in May 2021, four years after the artist first contacted him.
“It came to me when I first bought the galleries,” Peters recalled. “He asked me if I could show his works, he brought me a couple of examples and [they’re] really beautiful works.”
south dawn9:03Gitxsan artist Clint Williams creates outdoor art while living with the homeless in Kelowna
Initially, Peters turned down Williams’ proposal to sell his artwork at Hambleton Galleries. He admits that his decision was influenced by uncertainty about the marketability of those pieces.
But Peters says she later regretted her decision after gaining a better understanding of reconciliation with indigenous communities. He has sold 102 of Williams’ paintings in the past two years.
Underscoring the demand for Williams’ artwork, Peters points to a waiting list of 40 clients from Canada and beyond who are eager to purchase his pieces.
He acknowledges that exhibiting Williams’ artwork is part of his gallery’s initiative to diversify its collection.
“Canadian art in general has been dominated by whites for a long time, and I think part of showing interesting things is having them be different, and if you want something different, then you need diversity,” Peters said.
Hoping for higher revenue for Williams
Peters values Williams’ paintings, the primary size of which is 11 inches by 14 inches, at $200 each, with all proceeds going to the artist. Peters explains that this pricing strategy is intended to ensure quick sales to maintain a steady revenue stream for Williams.
Peters meets with Williams about once a week and provides the artist with some necessary art supplies for free. He arranges for the winnings to be transferred to Williams’ bank account, which he helped set up.
Peters hopes Williams can generate more substantial revenue by creating larger paintings and then sharing the profits with galleries, just like other artists.
“Ideally, we’d like to get Clint to a point where he’s stable, he’s safe, he’s in a great place where he can create more elaborate pieces and we can get into a more normal artist-gallery relationship,” he said.
Armed with his guitar and pushing his shopping cart, Williams expresses his satisfaction at being able to sell his art.
“I’m quite happy.”