“When I carve, I am giving part of myself. I put so much energy and passion into the carving that I am working on that I am physically and mentally drained when the carving is finished.”
For Jutai, making art was an essential act - an attempt at balance in a world off-kilter too much of the time. He was a mystical soul whose work often depicts human figures in the midst of transformation with spirits, animals, and other humans. Issues of power and protection suffuse his work. Jutai spoke eloquently about the power of the spirit world, which he felt was more closely linked to our temporal world than we might imagine. He asserted that the spirits are always with us, like veins under the surface of skin, imparting their power and protection to human beings in times of need.
Jutai Toonoo lived and worked in the Inuit settlement of Cape Dorset, and had also lived in Iqaluit. He was the son of Toonoo and Sheojuke, and the brother of artists Samonie Toonoo and Oviloo Tunnillie. Jutai was an accomplished sculptor, painter, and jewellery maker who came back to carving in the 1990s after learning the techniques from his father at a young age. He was born in 1959.
Jutai challenged the perceptions and notions of art in a global sense. He also belonged to the middle generation of Inuit artists who hover somewhere between the old and new worlds of the Arctic, negotiating an identity that is at once introspective and worldly. Jutai appreciated the role that carving plays in helping the Inuit to maintain their cultural identity through the blending of traditional and modern themes. He was a member of that generation of Inuit artists who are gaining momentum; they are growing and evolving, while remaining deeply tied to the uniquely resourceful spirit that permeates the Arctic.
Jutai often incorporated text into his compositions, claiming that he did not plan for the words - they simply emerged during the creative process. In a gesture that is as contemporary as it is traditional, the artist often boldly inscribed additional text directly onto the stone's surface; by turns witty and thoughtful, these messages are themselves significant acts of communication as revealing and expressive as the images they gloss. Jutai’s sculptures are both minimal and expressionistic. He was a commanding ambassador of contemporary Inuit art, creating works that rarely conform to traditional assumptions about the style and substance of Inuit sculpture. Jutai passed away in 2015.
Toonoo's work is found in many private and public collections in Canada and abroad.
“Instead of depicting the traditional Inuit way of life, or even that life in transition, Toonoo has taken on a universal theme: the human condition. At the same time, his art is extremely personal. "I try to give power to my work," he says. "Lots of times, my tongue gets tied and I can't really say what I'm thinking." The silent stone gives him eloquence.”
Derek Norton and Nigel Reading, Cape Dorset Sculpture, Vancouver: Douglas&McIntyre, 2005, 43.
Robin Laurence, “Inuit Artist Makes Silent Stones Speak” Straight.com, 25 August 2005, Arts.