Rick Rivet, “Northwest Passage – 10” (2010), 43 3/4 x 46 1/2 (approx.) (all photos Rachel Harris-Huffman/Hyperallergic)

SANTA FE, N. Mex. — Currently on view at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is Rick Rivet: Journeys, Mounds, and the Metaphysical, a solo exhibition that transports viewers away from New Mexico’s adobe-clad chile-tinged capital city to polar latitudes where sea ice and twilight skies meld into ambiguous spaces that hold symbols of transformation, Indigenous histories, and shamanistic beliefs suspended in time, memory, and the ephemeral. 

Rick Rivet (Sahtu-Métis) is a painter from the Northwest Territories of Canada. He grew up in the hamlet of Aklavik in the Mackenzie River Delta, just south of the Beaufort Sea. The inhabitants of the area are primarily Inuit and First Nations; Rivet’s Métis family is descended from mixed Indigenous and European ancestry. These cultures and their intersecting histories, as well as the geographies that dictate modes of transportation and ways of life, are common themes and sources of inquiry in the artist’s symbological expressionist acrylic and mixed media paintings. 

Rivet’s palette evokes his Arctic origin. Among his influences are Modernists Rauschenberg, Rothko, and Turner, and his study of their techniques is evident in the way he lays down paint. Layered washes and drips of aurora borealis greens and magentas intermingle with glacial shades of blue. Passages of bright scribbled and scumbled white sit atop ethereal fields of pastel colors like a dusting of snow. Graphic black shapes cut into compositions suggesting the silhouettes of distant boats, night skies, and deep-sea waters. Blood red lines imply navigational paths and similarly red crosses represent stars in the sky.

Many of the paintings are about spiritual experiences and shamanistic beliefs. Others reveal historical traumas as in Rivet’s Beothuk Mound (2019) series, which addresses the genocide of the Beothuk people who once inhabited what is now Newfoundland, and contemporary urgencies in a world impacted by global warming as in his Above the Beach (2019) paintings, which depict endangered arctic animals bake under sunset-colored skies. 

Installation view of Rick Rivet: Journeys, Mounds and the Metaphysical at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA), 2023

Themes of land, sea, and migration are prevalent in Rivet’s Northwest Passage (2019), Franklin Expedition (2018), and Amundsen (2011) paintings. These works examine travel and tragedy experienced by explorers of the Canadian Arctic. For example, “Franklin Expedition” cites the failed 1845 British arctic exploration voyage led by Captain Sir John Franklin that ended when his ships became icebound for over a year. Nearly two dozen passengers, including Franklin, died, while the others disappeared into the tundra. “Northwest Passage–5” (2019) presents a more peaceful scene that combines imagery from Rivet’s Beothuk Mound and Northwest Passage paintings. A black half canoe containing a corpse, a funerary symbol in Rivet’s work, floats between a red-topped mound and the moon through a cosmic blue space that suggests rest and relief.

In a city so steeped in regional identity, the show offers a visually compelling opportunity to encounter Indigenous world views from outside the Southwest US. Rivet’s grounding in Modernism allows him to explore spirituality and shamanism through abstract expressionist modes that meld traditional Indigenous ideas and symbols with a decidedly contemporary approach to image making.

Installation view of Rick Rivet: Journeys, Mounds and the Metaphysical at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA), 2023
Rick Rivet, “Northwest Passage – 5” (2019), acrylic on canvas, 65 x 64 1/2 inches (approx.)
Installation view of Rick Rivet: Journeys, Mounds and the Metaphysical at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA), 2023

Rick Rivet: Journeys, Mounds, and the Metaphysical continues at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (108 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through July 2. The exhibition was curated by Chief Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man.

Rachel Harris-Huffman is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in Albuquerque. New Mexico. She holds an MLitt in Art Writing from the Glasgow School of Art and a BFA in Painting & Drawing from...