A Cultural Collaboration

Andy Everson uses new technology and modern icons to reach new audiences with his art

“The Stormtrooper represents how we are warriors in the modern sense, <a href=

drug ” says Andy Everson of the Star Wars character over-painted to look like an indigenous warrior. “We choose what side we’re going to fight for. Are we going to be a cog in the wheel of the machine or are we going create our own future?” Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> “The Stormtrooper represents how we are warriors in the modern sense, obesity ” says Andy Everson of the Star Wars character over-painted to look like an indigenous warrior. “We choose what side we’re going to fight for. Are we going to be a cog in the wheel of the machine or are we going create our own future?” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

When I walk into Andy Everson’s studio on Comox Road I don’t know exactly what to expect, endocrinologist but standing face to face with a life-sized Star Wars Stormtrooper was not on my list. The Stormtrooper, over-painted with Northwest Coastal art to look like an indigenous warrior, stands inside the entrance like a sentry. At that moment, I know Everson is not your average artist, and this was not your average studio.

Everson was born in 1972 in Comox and named Nagedzi after his grandfather, the late Chief Andy Frank of the K’ómoks First Nation. “My grandfather had a great influence on me when I was young, and he continues to be an influence, though I’ve never met him,” says Everson. “My grandfather died when my mom was pregnant with me. I was born three months later, and that’s why I was given his name.”

From an early age there were expectations placed on Everson about who he was to become. “My grandfather was a real ambassador between our people and the outside community. It’s my responsibility, and also the responsibility of my brothers, to continue my grandfather’s legacy—showing our culture in the best way possible,” Everson says. “We believe that by showing who we are, we can help others to understand our differences as well as our similarities.”

Everson’s studio, called Copper Canoe, is in the building that used to be his grandmother’s house. “As a teenager I would walk here every afternoon after school. I’d bring home library books that contained information and photos about our people,” Everson recalls. “My grandmother would explain the photos to me, telling me who the people were and what they were doing. Through my grandmother I was able to experience history as close to first hand as possible. I learned a lot from her as a teenager, and as a result, I’m very aware of our traditional ways.”

As a teenager Everson became heavily involved in native dance and singing. Both were a way for him to express his connection to and share his cultural heritage, and it also led him into the world of art. “One year we needed some traditional blankets for a dance we were due to perform, but the ones we had were too old and valuable to take with us,” he says. “So I decided to try making some by painting large sheets of canvas.” The blankets turned out surprisingly well, and Everson realized that he enjoyed the process of creating.

After high school Everson decided to pursue an education in anthropology. “When my grandmother was young she spent a lot of time with anthropologists, including Franz Boas, who is considered the father of modern anthropology,” Everson says. “As a result, my grandmother encouraged me to pursue cultural work as a direction. I saw anthropology as a way to make a living while doing something within my culture.”

He went on to earn an undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree in anthropology through the University of British Columbia. Although Everson was busy with his academic studies, it was at this time in his life that he started to pursue art more intensely.

Everson laughs. “While putting off writing of my master’s thesis I started to draw more and more,” he says. “I finished my thesis but I also realized that I’d like to seriously pursue art. Unfortunately, I didn’t know a thing about approaching galleries.” Though uneducated in the art world at the time, Everson persevered, continuing to create his art and forging relationships with galleries. With time his art had a following.

Today Everson’s following has grown by leaps and bounds, mainly through his most recent style of art, which combines pop culture with Northwest Coast art. Images like Lego, robots, Angry Birds, Canucks logos and Star Wars figures are not images you’d immediately pair with Northwest Coast art—yet it works, and it is creating new interest in First Nations art as a whole.

At a recent art show at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, Everson says, “There were school groups scheduled to visit the exhibit. As they’d arrive I could see the surprise and interest on their faces as they saw my work. They weren’t expecting to see Star Wars figures—suddenly they were completely interested and engaged.”

Everson’s most notable use of pop culture is his Star Wars-themed pieces. “I’m a child of the 70s,” he says with a laugh. “Star Wars was my first real obsession. I collected all the toys and learned all I could about the series.” By pairing his love of Star Wars with the current issues facing his people, Everson has found a unique and effective way to raise awareness of those issues.

As a whole, Everson’s Star Wars-themed series, Portrait of the Treaty Empire, discusses the misgivings and inner conflict that Everson feels surrounding the British Columbia Treaty process—negotiations that see governance of the reserves transferred from the federal government to the First Nations themselves. There are six images in the series, featuring characters such as C3PO, Darth Maul, Yoda and the Stormtrooper. Each represents a different aspect of the treaty process.

There is Darth Vader, of course, who represents the dark side of treaty politics. “Our leaders, both native and non-native, get into politics generally with good intentions, but a lot of it gets corrupted and there’s a lot of corruption that happens at that level once they’ve found that power,” Everson says.

Another image in the series, titled Wisdom, bears the likeness of Yoda. Everson explains in the print’s write up: “The backbone of our community has always been our elders…They will speak up for the old ways because the old ways are all that differentiate us from the rest of the world.”

Possibly the most popular and notable Star Wars character Everson uses in his art is the Stormtrooper. “The Stormtrooper represents how we are warriors in the modern sense,” he says. “We choose what side we’re going to fight for. Are we going to be a cog in the wheel of the machine or are we going create our own future?”

When the Stormtrooper piece went up at Hills Art Gallery in Vancouver the response was immediate and positive. “People who’d never been interested in First Nations art were now going into the gallery and buying my art,” says Everson. “Stormtrooper was a triumph in that regard.”

According to Tim Strang, the marketing manager of Hills Gallery, Everson’s art has been tremendously popular. “Andy Everson’s art has always been well received here at the gallery. In fact, we have had a relationship with Andy since the beginning of his career. But the Star Wars series has been incredibly popular.

“Of his Star Wars-themed pieces, we’ve sold everything he’s given us so far. In fact, we’ve sold 198 pieces just since this past May,” Strang says, adding that serious collectors around the world are grabbing Everson’s art. “We recommend buying his art as a retirement savings plan. There are so few of them, and people as far away as Germany and Japan are actively looking for Andy’s art.”

One of Everson's coins for the Royal Canadian Mint.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

One of Everson’s commemorative coins for the Royal Canadian Mint. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Unlike many artists’ workspaces, in Everson’s studio there is a notable absence of art detritus like easels, brushes, and the smell of paint. Instead, the focal point of Everson’s studio is his desk with nothing on it but an extra large computer screen. The absence of the usual art equipment is explained by the fact that Everson creates the majority of his work on the computer. To create his art Everson literally draws on a computerized tablet, using a stylus. The image is then transferred to the computer as a file.

“It’s very convenient because files can be sent and changed very easily,” he says. For example, when he needs to send sketches across the country, it can be done with a keystroke. And when changes need to be made to a sketch, it is just a matter of making changes to the file and resending it. “Using the computer has many advantages. There’s no undo button with traditional forms of art!”

Though creating his art on the computer may be convenient, there are some purists who claim art created on a computer isn’t a valid form of art. “As a medium of art, I see the computer as another tool,” says Everson. “Our people have always adapted and taken on new tools to create our artwork. I think it’s ludicrous to not take on a new thing that works better than the old tools. Some people think it’s not traditional, but the ideas are still there—it’s just another way of creating.”

Although he is incredibly competent on the computer now, it wasn’t always this way. “When I was in school I was so computer illiterate that I even paid my sister to type my papers for me,” he says, laughing.

“A few years ago I was asked to create a multi-media language program for the school district. That was the push I needed to learn more about computers. I’ve now translated that information into art. Many of the things I do are self taught. I learn from making mistakes.”

One corner of Everson’s studio is taken up with his two giclee printers. “They’re just like the ink jet printers people have at home, only are much larger and they use pigment-based inks instead of dye-based inks,” explains Everson. “The pigment inks last much longer than the dye inks. For example, pigment inks last up to 200 years in regular lighting conditions. Dye inks begin to fade quickly within a couple years. I also print on cotton rag, which has a neutral pH. This makes the artwork last much longer.”

The ability to create and print his own art has afforded Everson the freedom to explore and express his heritage in many ways.  Though Everson prefers doing his art on the computer he also does some screen printing work. “Northwest Coast art tends to have very bold lines with positive and negative space,” he says. “Screen printing makes sense in that regard. The screen printing allows me to use inks that I couldn’t use with the giclee printer, such as metallic paints.”

However, the computer still plays a part with the screen prints. “I create the design on the computer and then send the file to the printer, who will make a Mylar sheet from the design. That sheet will then be burned onto a screen for making the prints,” explains Everson.

Though Everson tries his hand at other art forms, such as carving, painting and photo realism, his most recent form of art is the series of images he designed to grace three commemorative coins for the Royal Canadian Mint. “A representative from the Canadian Mint called me out of the blue one day and asked me to submit a sketch for a commemorative coin. That’s how it started. Eventually he called back asking me to do a series of three. So I put everything else on hold and worked on the next two sketches.”

The three designs, called Interconnection, are the beaver, the thunderbird, and the whale, which represent land, air, and sea, respectively. The coins are issued in either solid silver with a hologram finish, or in pure gold. Only 1,500 of the gold coins were minted and 7,500 silver coins are available.

“The coins—they are something to be proud of,” says Everson. “It’s certainly a high point in my career. Anytime you can get your image out there, it’s a good thing. Doing the coins has been a great experience and I’d like to do more. In fact, I’d like to do the design for a coin that would be in full circulation.”

Though Everson’s grandmother hasn’t been able to see his work, he is quite sure she would be particularly proud of the coins. “My grandmother, she comes from a generation that was always proud of the Queen because they equated the Queen with hereditary leadership,” he says. “As you would expect, on the coins the Queen is on one side and my art is on the other—so I’m sure she’d be particularly pleased with these coins. I suspect that if she were alive today she’d have them on display and she’d be showing all her friends. I think she would have been very proud of this achievement.”

To see Everson’s coins go to 

To view Everson’s work visit