An Online Exhibition


Coast Salish design and Northern-style formline lend themselves fantastically to bold designs. In Northwest Coast art, each shape has a traditional role to play. Lines and shapes lock together, bounding fields of color into negative and positive spaces, resulting in complex, detailed images. For some artists, formline design is a toolkit to create detailed images featuring animals, humans, spirit faces and crest imagery. Others go beyond the figurative, stretching these shapes to become semi-abstract or fully abstract compositions that evoke motion, energy, pattern and movement.

“Northwest Coast art can be broadly divided into two regional styles: northern and southern. Northern style includes the Ts’msyen, Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Haisla, Haida and Tlingit nations. Northern artists use the formline system for their designs, in which curving lines, ovoids and U shapes connect to form the basic design, creating a tension characteristic of northern art. The southern region includes the Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk, and Coast Salish, as well as the Kwakwaka‘wakw. Southern styles tend to be more naturalistic and have less bilateral symmetry. Although many southern artists began using formlines during historic times, their designs tend to be more open, and their work shows a freedom and exuberance that distinguishes it from northern art.” -American Museum of Natural History

Historically, southern Northwest Coast style had been overshadowed by the bold abstract patterns of northern formline design. Many Coast Salish artists were creating art in the northern formline style, but a renaissance in the 1980s and beyond–led primarily by Susan Point (Musqueam)–rekindled the Southern styles. Now, artists including Point and her children–Kelly Cannell and Thom Cannell–Qwalsius-Shaun Peterson, lessLIE (Leslie Sam), and many others are bringing their Southern design heritage to the forefront.

This exhibit highlights both Southern and Northern print-makers who are using Northwest Coast design systems to create abstract and semi-abstract compositions that convey motion and movement, color and vibrancy, pattern and emotion.

Exhibition Dates:

July 24, 2018 - August 24, 2018

Featured Works