The creative force is strong within K’ómoks First Nations artist Andy Everson, who melds his childhood love of Star Wars with West Coast Indigenous art.
“I grew up in the ’70s and certainly was enamoured with Star Wars,” says Everson, who collected the toys and loved the movies. An artist since the 1990s, he realized the familiar characters were more than one-dimensional sci-fi players, and decided in 2011 to use them in his art to help articulate his themes.
The pieces are threaded with meaning for Indigenous people, and also act as a doorway for those unfamiliar with Northwest Coast First Nations stories and imagery. Everson saw parallels around the imperialism and occupation in the blockbuster films and how British Empire colonialism impacted Indigenous communities in Canada. Darth Vader, stormtroopers, C3PO, and Yoda take new forms in Everson’s bold prints. He incorporates First Nations legends with symbols from his own family to make statements about oppression and resistance, while at the same time preserving his culture’s historic storytelling.
“Our Native artwork was created to remind the viewer of traditional stories, and we would use our artforms to display our craft and create our crests on our regalia, on our house fronts, and feast dishes,” he says over the phone from his home of Comox, Vancouver Island. Many of these narratives have been lost since colonization, making Everson’s work all the more important.
With “Defiance,” a stormtrooper becomes a First Nations warrior, blanketed in slate blue heron feathers; the bird is a badge from one part of Everson’s family. Then there is a raven, which is used in a Darth Vader print called “Rise,” and comes from his grandmother’s great grandmother, who had the bird as her crest. Colourful “Resistance” and “Northern Warrior” transform the stormtrooper using influences from the Tlingit Nation branch of his family, including Chilkat weavers.
Everson likes that his art is familiar and accessible through the Star Wars references; it makes the work easy for people to understand and enjoy, even as the themes remain unexpected and impactful. Other modern-day references flow through his work—a Lego character is used for his playful self-portrait, while an Angry Birds leading player becomes “Angry Raven.”
Still, his oeuvre encompasses more than pop culture. Idle No More!, for instance—created by Everson in resistance to the Canadian government’s omnibus bills and their lack of First Nations inclusion—went viral. “I try to create work that has some meaning, too, and try to do my little part,” he reflects. “I can’t always make it to protests but if I am able, I represent it with artwork.” Everson also designed a colourfully embossed, high-relief Thunderbird-theme silver coin for the Canadian Mint in 2018; his next project involves working with his partner, designer Erin Brillon, and her brother to create wearable art for her company Totem Design House.
The Star Wars pieces are what gave him name recognition, though, and he is happy that they have been “powerful” for British Columbia’s Indigenous communities. “They feel it’s almost like they’re more a part of it. They, too, are interested in that universe and their own culture,” says Everson. “It has a resonance for them.” As for non-Indigenous people? “Sometimes they’ll walk past one of these pieces in the window of a gallery and it stops them in their tracks. They don’t expect it.”
Make the viewer feel something—it’s what all great art should do.
This story originally appeared on the Montecristo Magazine website.