Artist Conversations: Levi Nelson, ‘Fall for Arts’ Arts Scene Cover Artist

Artist Conversations: Levi Nelson, ‘Fall for Arts’ Arts Scene Cover Artist

Levi Nelson, ‘Fall for Arts’ Scene Cover Artist

The Fall for Arts Scene is available now and it’s filled with amazing arts and culture events happening throughout Whistler and the Sea to Sky this season.

Grab your free copy at the Maury Young Arts Centre and other cool cultural spots and businesses throughout the community – you can’t miss the stunning cover art by artist Levi Nelson!

Levi is an artist from the Lil’wat Nation, currently attending Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. His work can be described as a blend between contemporary and traditional First Nations art, and his work has been exhibited in shows and museums throughout the Lower Mainland and Sea to Sky Corridor. Selected as Best of Pemberton’s Favourite First Nations Artist, he is the winner of the 2018 IDEA Art Award and will be showing a solo exhibition at the Arts Centre this fall.

We got a chance to chat with Levi to find out more about his art, what inspires him and how his cultural background influences him:

Levi Nelson

What inspires you to create?
I tend to feed off of other people’s creativity, especially when I don’t feel that inspired to create. Looking at artist catalogues or watching art documentaries really motivates me to create works of art. Some days I simply wake up with this insatiable need to make an idea come to fruition, or to finish a project I have on the go. I am always working on multiple projects at once, whether it be commissions or work I create for the sake of expression.


Tell us about the piece on the cover of this edition of Arts Scene.

Two Spirits at the Carnival of Stations of The Cross by Levi Nelson

Two Spirits at the Carnival of the Stations of the Cross, 2019 is a bit of an imagined self-portrait; where Two Spirits is the “Indian name” of the figure in the painting, but also references the First Nations term for Gayness, as many Nations believe that LGBTQ People carry the spirit of both genders. The stations of the cross can be found in the Roman Catholic church. I am not religious in the conventional sense, but when I was a little boy and would spend the night at my Grandmother’s house with my cousins, she would make us go to church with her on Sundays. Since then I have always had a romantic fascination with images of Christ and the Virgin Mary. There are 14 stations of the cross which depict the moments of Christs crucifixion, from the moment of his condemnation, through to when he was taken down from the cross. The Ferris wheel points to the invention of the wheel and the first wagons to cross the prairies, of which in present day Alberta, an ancient stone medicine wheel can be found. I chose to portray this idea with the Ferris wheel, to symbolize the contemporary moment and the technological landscape that we must navigate as Aboriginal people in today’s Western society.


How has your art evolved over time?
When I was a child I was fascinated with drawing horses, and in grades 1,2,3, I was the best drawer in my class, and the girls loved me for it. I went to Signal Hill Elementary School and was bused in from the reserve where I grew up. I always felt a little different, or at a disadvantage for being First Nations and Queer. Creativity was an avenue and a strength that I literally drew on to fit in. In high school I was fascinated by Picasso and Dali. My work has fringed upon exploration of the European masters as well as the ancient techniques of my ancestors and people of the Northwest coast. Most recently in 2015 I took a deep interest in the Indian Group of Seven; particularly the work of Norval Morrisseau and Daphne Odjig. I started to really paint obsessively in that year and used their styles as a way to hone my brush skills and to develop a sense for my own understanding of colour theory.


art by Levin Nelson

Anthropology by Levi Nelson

What do you want people to think or feel when they look at your art work?
People typically spend about 30 seconds looking at a work of art, especially if there are others around. Today’s cultural lexicon is moving at a fast pace and we want that immediate gratification, which can rob us of special moments if we don’t take the time to smell the roses. I believe people bring their own baggage to a work of art, and think and feel whatever they may be searching for within themselves. I hope people can get a sense of what it might be like to be me, or what I am trying to share about my culture and the experience of my people


What elements of your culture are most important for you to showcase in your art?

I come from a cultural background that has been largely colonized, and so I try to include elements of Pop culture that can be recognized by a larger group of people, like Sitting Bull for example, whom I believe is the biggest American Indian Icon in today’s modern society. I have also been exploring motifs specific to Lil’wat culture, but find it challenging to interpret into oil painting, which is a traditional European expression. I am also looking at the present moment for Indigenous people and incorporating ideas of contemporary cultural practices like the convenience of buying food at mega grocery stores, where I have literally taken flyers from discount and No Name Brand chains, and have collaged them into my recent works, like Hunter Gatherer, 2018 and Construction of the Imaginary Indian.


Levi Nelson art

Hunter Gatherer by Levi Nelson

Whose art is inspiring you right now?
Last semester during one of my courses at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I learned about the late mixed heritage American Indian artist Fritz Scholder, who chose to “paint the Indian” in his present day circumstances; as in Indian with Beer Can, 1969 and Indian with Ice Cream Cone. His bright colours and loose application of paint, bordering on abstraction, and his depiction of some of the harsh realities that Aboriginal people face today, I find freeing and fascinating; in that they allow me to depart from the traditional modes of “authentic Indian art” and give my permission to create work that is truthful and contemporaneous to today’s modern Indigenous people.


What’s next for you? What are you working towards?
I am entering my 4th year of my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree at ECUAD where I am majoring in Visual Arts with an emphasis on painting.  I would like to go on to complete my Masters Degree in Fine Arts at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, or Columbia University in New York. I also recently met with the Audain Whistler, and was invited to sketch some of the masks in their permanent collection, which I will be incorporating into a future series of oil paintings.


After the Blast by Levi Nelson

Can you recommend some other artists’ Instagram feeds we should be following?
Yes, I follow #contemporaryart which in general leads me to new and fascinating work from other creative individuals. Also, lowbrowpopsurrealists is a feed that features work from some amazing artists, and one of my favorites is


What can people expect from your solo show in the Gallery at the Arts Centre?
People can expect to see a wide range of styles in this, my first solo show, which features work from 2015 to present. Here you will witness a young emerging artist experimenting and trying to find his inner voice, while exploring many different avenues in an attempt to create something fresh and original in the artistic realm of what it means to be an Aboriginal artist in today’s contemporary Western society.


Be sure to visit Levi’s solo exhibition  ‘After the Blast: The Art of Levi Nelson’


  • November 7, 2019 | 6:30 – 9:00pm
  • The Gallery at Maury Young Arts Centre
  • All ages, Free admission, everyone welcome!
  • Cash bar, appetizers, words from the artist

Parties are better with friends. Share the Facebook event!

EXHIBIT DATES: November 7 – December 29, 2019 | Open Daily, Free admission, everyone welcome!

Discover more of his work and connect with him on social:
Levi Nelson Artist Profile


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