Carl Beam was an internationally acclaimed contemporary Canadian artist of Ojibway descent, whose work will survive as a milestone in the development of the Canadian Aboriginal voice on the international art scene.
Beam was born in 1943 at M'Chigeeng (West Bay) on Manitoulin Island. As a child he was sent to the Garnier Residential School in Spanish, an awful experience that would influence some of the powerful imagery used in his later work.
Beam studied at the Kootenay School of Art, the University of Victoria (where he earned a BFA in 1974) and the University of Alberta. In 1986, the National Gallery of Canada was the first of the major Canadian galleries to recognize Beam's work with the purchase of The North American Iceberg. From 1983–1992 his work was included in all the landmark exhibitions that altered the segregation of aboriginal art in Canada.
Beam's works can be read as juxtapositions between long held perceptions and challenging alternatives. Early influences during his formal studies included Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. His well known, appropriated images (a pieta, an embryo, Abraham Lincoln, Sitting Bull, a crow, the Pinta and Maria, and Einstein, among others) were cross-cultural symbols that he utilized to convey a universal message about the environment and the relationship between man, nature and the passage of time.
With a linear pattern or formal grid, he tried to visually create the fourth dimension in his work, a spiritual space inhabited by a quiet intellect. That he was an artist of native and white heritage added to the scope of the complex subjects he chose.
Beam's work, executed in diverse media such as drawing, watercolour, etching, non-silver photography, photo transfer, collage, installation and ceramics, has been exhibited throughout North America as well as in Italy, Denmark, Germany and China. It is found in major Canadian and international collections including
the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y.
In 2000, Beam was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, and in 2005 he received the Governor General's Award in Visual Art and Media. He died July 30, 2005, of complications arising from diabetes.