Phil Gray - Lucid Dream Alder Mask

By Emma DelliCarpini
Posted in News, on March 03, 2018


Lucid Dream is a recent piece by Tsm'syen/Cree artist Phil Gray. Phil's masks are highly sought after and we are always excited to be able to showcase new masks and sculptures of his in the gallery. Attention to detail, influence from cultural knowledge, unparalleled finishing, and smooth painting give Phil's masks the distinctive and beautiful traits that make them so unique.

Phil created Lucid Dream as a custom order for the gallery and - as always - the final result was a stunning piece of art that incorporates complex design and potent subject matter.

Carved from Alder with abalone inlays, this piece was influenced by a shared experience Phil and his mother had in the form of a dream. The central figure and the figure riding the whale atop the piece represent two figures at once; Gunarah - the whale rider - and a person dreaming. The Whale Rider story is popular throughout Northern Coastal BC and multiple families and communities tell a version of it.

At the root of the story of Gunarah and his Wife is a benevolent Orca who comes to Gunarah's aid. Orcas are often depicted as offering help or solace to humans in need, especially those who are in danger at sea.

Phil and his mother have both had dreams where they are on the shore in place of Gunarah, and when the benevolent Orca comes to bring them down to the sea floor - they do not go with him. Had they been able to control the actions of their dreams (i.e. lucid dreaming), they could have made the decision to travel with the Orca.

Coming from the central figure's mouth are a sea lion and an otter, these two supernatural creatures are said to guard the bighouse on the sea floor where Gunarah's wife is taken. The two humans on either side represent the potential knowledge that can be attained through the dream world, with the abalone inlaid in their eyes representing this otherworldly enlightenment. The figure on the top of the Orca is the whale rider.

Phil Gray belongs to the Killerwhale Clan and his works are created in his traditional Ts'msyen style. He began carving in 1998 with Salish artist Gerry Sheena. He also had the opportunity to work with David Boxley, Henry Green, and Rick Adkins early in his career. In 2005, Phil was featured in the Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 2 exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, NY. In 2007, Phil completed the Northwest Coast Jewellery Arts Program at the Native Education College in Vancouver, BC, under Kwakwaka’wakw/Haida artist Dan Wallace. Phil was included in two major exhibitions in 2009. The first was the Challenging Traditions exhibition at Ontario's McMichael Gallery, a show that was dedicated to exploring innovative and experimental works from the Northwest Coast. The second was Continuum: Vision and Creativity on the Northwest Coast at Vancouver's Bill Reid Gallery, which highlighted 23 established Aboriginal artists from BC, Washington State, and Alaska. In February of 2010, Phil designed the helmet of gold medal-winning Skeleton racer Jon Montgomery. In 2012, Phil was included in the Vancouver Art Gallery's Shore, Forest, and Beyond exhibition. In 2014, Phil was awarded a BC Creative Achievement Award for his contributions to the province. In 2017, Phil won two major prizes: a YVR Art Foundation Mid-Career Scholarship and a REVEAL Indigenous Art Award, which was issued in celebration of Canada's 150th birthday.