Gene Brabant (Cree)

Gene Brabant was born on October 16, 1946 in Victoria, British Columbia. He won numerous art contests throughout his schooling in Brentwood, Victoria and Nanaimo. He left school after grade eight because he knew that he was going to be an artist.

His family settled in the community of James Bay in Victoria. Mungo Martin, the master Kwakwaka’wakw artist moved his family from Fort Rupert, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the same block as the Brabant family. The British Columbia Provincial Museum (now the Royal British Columbia Museum) had initiated the Thunderbird Park project and Mungo Martin was chosen as the master-artist and advisor to oversee the design and construction of the ceremonial longhouse and totem poles. The Thunderbird Park project began as a three project to replicate historic totem poles for outdoor display and build a longhouse which would be used for carving, educational studies and traditional ceremonies for the growing urban first nation population. The project continues to this day and it has financed many of the totem poles which represent Canada at International sites and Museum installations around the world. Mungo Martin’s son-inlaw, Henry Hunt also moved his family to Victoria and he joined the Thunderbird project in 1954. He later became the master carver in 1962, after his father-in-law’s death. Gene’s father was a professional musician and a close friend of the Hunt family. The neighbourhood would often be woken in the early morning to Indian songs mixed with Hank Williams.

Gene began visiting Thunderbird Park when he was seven with his close friend Alex Hunt. The Hunt family studio grew into the Art of the Raven Gallery under the direction of Tony Hunt Senior. Tony offered Gene his first apprenticeship when he was fifteen year old and Gene finally accepted the offer when he was twenty-three. In the meantime he worked as a sign painter which would later effect his interest in the clean flowing lines of artists such as Willie Seaweed. He began carving with John Livingston who was also the gallery manager at the time. He carved in the Hunt family studio off and on between 1971 and 1980. Gene remains close friends with many of the artists began their careers at Arts of the Raven including Tony Hunt Jr.

Gene has been trained in the Kwakwaka’wakw style but he often works in classical Nuxalk or Bella Coola style. His work is often interpretations of historic master works. He has traveled extensively to visit museums and study older pieces. Often, he will measure works with calipers to understand particular features of the masks. His paint style is influenced by Willie Seaweed, the great master artist, and his own training as a sign painter. The balance between detailed carving and precision painting makes a Gene Brabant piece both powerful from a distance and exact under close inspection.

Gene has often chosen to work on the perimeters of the market although he has been included in many exhibitions and is represented in many private and corporate collections.

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