“I strive to create work that underlines the relevance of Native art as a
contemporary medium of expression” -David Neel1
David Neel, Gla-kla-kla-wis, has been a practicing artist for over 30 years, starting out in photography and moving more directly into multi-media work. Neel creates paintings, carvings, jewelry and photography, much of which is influenced by both his ancestry and the current socio-political climate.
Neel comes from a long line of prominent artists, including his great-great-great grandfather Charlie James (1875-1938) who contributed to what is known as the Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) style in Kwakwaka’wakw artwork. James’ work can be found in museums across North America and Europe and Neel has studied much of his work.
David’s father, David Neel Sr. (1937 - 1961) was also a prominent artist whose legacy has formed the basis of influence in David’s work.
“Northwest Coast art is rich in symbols, and those played an essential role in my early life, helping me to form my emotional and psychological foundation. I grew up surrounded by my father’s art, and although I had no one to explain the imagery to me, no one to teach me about the Trickster or the Transformer, those images spoke to me and affirmed that there were people and a culture that I belonged to.”2
Ellen Neel (1916-1966), Neel’s grandmother, was also an acclaimed Kwakwaka’wakw artist and her work can be found in collections all over the world. In fact, one of Ellen Neel’s totem poles which was carved with her Uncle Mungo Martin (whose work graces the walls of museums and art galleries across North America and the globe) currently stands in Stanley Park and is still seen by thousands of visitors every year.
It is this rich ancestral history that feeds much of David’s work. His formal training began at Mount Royal College in Alberta and the University of Kansas studying photojournalism and documenting different communities across the continent. Neel's photography has been presented in solo exhibitions at the UBC Museum of Anthropology, National Archives of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, to name only a few.
When Neel moved back home to Canada he focused in on his connection to his ancestral art forms, expanding into carving and painting. He apprenticed under renowned artists Beau Dick and Wayne Alfred, learning the trade of carving. His work has extended developed through a multitude of media, including jewelry, painting, printmaking and sculpture. Neel’s work has been featured in exhibitions across the globe and he recently won the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Non-Fiction for his wonderful book The Way Home.
David Neel has created a legacy and his artwork is has been presented at some of the most distinguished institutions in the art world including the Venice Biennale, the Smithsonian Museum in New York and the Vancouver Museum. Aesthete Fine Arts is honoured to have David’s work in our gallery and we are ecstatic that we can share his legacy with our community and the world.
1 Neel, David A. 2019. The Way Home. Vancouver, UBC Press.
2 Neel, David A. 2019. The Way Home. Vancouver, UBC Press.