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5/5/2018
Gillnetting, heritage explored in new exhibit
Will Bousley and his daughter Aliyah spot touch his artwork on Thursday at Main Street Gallery. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek


By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer

When people are viewing Will Bousley’s new exhibit, and they don’t want to read the white vinyl words below his artwork, he has a suggestion for them.

Bring a pair of headphones, find some electronic dance music and press play. Then walk around the Main Street Gallery looking at the illustrations in his first solo exhibit, “A Man of the Eagle Clan.”

The exhibit will be on display until May 25. Bousley will also have an artist presentation from noon to 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Main Street Gallery located at 330 Main St.

Bousley’s drawings depict what it’s like to drift gillnet for salmon on the waters of Southeast Alaska, which includes the environment on his boat. In one drawing, music notes can be seen. That’s where the electronic dance music comes in.

He explained that his vessel has Sirius satellite radio that plays the high energy dance music — and he loves that music for fishing. It’s fast paced, which is what he was trying to get across in his drawings.

There’s fish coming into the boat and there’s hands moving all over the place, and in that situation, Bousley feels that the music is really driving his body.

The colored pencil and ink illustrations in the exhibit tell a sequential story about a day of gillnetting, but there are more layers to that story.

“Obviously there’s a twist to it,” Bousley said. “There’s not just a guy heading out to go set his net and go fish. There’s another element in there.”

The tale begins at around 3 a.m. when it’s pitch black outside. A hand is shown steering a car, but the hand is half human and half eagle talon, depicted with vivid Prismacolor colored pencils outlined with black ink.

The illustrations show a boat and a car headed somewhere, which Bousley makes clear so the viewers are brought along in their journey.

There’s a net being thrown in the water by the man, and an eagle flying over the water, showing that it knows how to fish, too. It soon becomes daylight and Bousley’s drawings show that the man and the eagle have blended together.

“I really wanted to just show what gillnetting is like,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll always have a love for eagles. (Since) I was my daughters’ age, I’ve always had a love for eagles.”

The gillnet fisherman said he was an eagle for halloween when he was younger, sporting a feather suit with a beak crafted by his mother. Eagles have been a part of his life for a long time.

The idea to create a story with the eagle has been floating around in Bousley’s mind for about a decade. His daughter Aliyah Bousley is 9-years-old, and when she was born, Bousley said the story began materializing.

As a single person with no responsibilities besides paying bills, having a daughter seemed to be an eye-opening experience for him.

“Once my daughter was born,” he said, “I just remember kind of heading out on the boat and being like, ‘Man I got to provide for my young now.’”

In that sense, Bousley said he was like an eagle, fishing for salmon to provide for his young on his boat, “Lady Aliyah,” which is named after his daughter. He said the character in his illustrations becomes the eagle when he’s harvesting the fish.

Along with telling his story of gillnetting, the artist is exploring his Tsimshian heritage.

“I don’t really know a lot about my Tsimshian heritage as far as my clan,” Bousley said. “I’ve always known that I was the Eagle clan.”

In creating this art, he researched his heritage. Bousley explained that the book, “The Story of Metlakahtla” played a huge role in his artwork. He said it’s purposely spelled with the letter “H” in the community’s name.

Bousley said in his art he was trying to honor his people who are sustained by salmon, while telling that story in a dynamic way. He tried to show the fast-paced life of a fisherman, and researched comic books to see how he could take a picture and make it look like it’s moving.

To do that, Bousley drew speed lines in many of the illustrations. He also brought the drawings to life with the vivid, blended colors. Bousley said nothing was traced, scanned or photoshopped.

“I can see mistakes,” he noted. “I can see mistakes that I have made, you know, if I look really hard.”

But his daughter didn’t seem to notice on Thursday morning while he was preparing for the exhibit opening on Friday. Aliyah Bousley was walking around the room, taking photographs of his exhibit on her phone. She flew up from Olympia, Washington, to spend time with her father.

Aliyah Bousley thinks the colors in his drawings are pretty special.

“In drawing sometimes, what I just do is … for like the sky, I just do one color,” Aliyah Bousley said. “He did like this special effect thing.”

“Blended, yeah, blended the colors,” her father chimed in.

She also said in his art, there’s something waiting for the readers. Towards the end of Bousley’s story, the character is shown struggling with some inner dialogue.

He said every good story has a few struggles in it.

“In stories,” Aliyah Bousley said, “there’s like always something ... exciting that’s going to happen that we don’t know at the beginning, and then at the end, ... it’s like, ‘What just happened.’”