Indigenous inspiration

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By Denis Langlois

Celebrated Indigenous artist Phil Gray’s work can be found in private collections around the world as well as in galleries, museums, books, logos, on traditional regalia and even on an Olympic gold medalist’s helmet.

And now, the British Columbia resident’s striking eagle designs adorn the arms of two eyewear frames, thanks to a collaboration with AYA Optical.

“I am proud to support and celebrate the rich Northwest Coast Tsimshian heritage with this exciting Phil Gray capsule launch,” says designer Carla D’Angelo.

Gray, a Northwest Coast Ts’msyen artist who was born and raised in Vancouver, has been carving in the traditional Tsimshian style since 1999. His work is recognized for being amongst the most creative, innovative traditional art in the contemporary Northwest Coast art world.

His eagle designs can be found on the collection’s modern unisex wayfarer style Gabe and the square-shaped frame Justin. Both styles are available in two colourways.

Recently, we spoke with Phil Gray about his artwork and the collaboration with AYA Optical.

  1. Please tell us more about the designs that will be featured on these frames?
  2. The eagle design for these glasses was originally created on my phone using a stylus. Once I was able to refine the design, I had it vectorized so it could be easily interpreted for production.

It is done in my people’s style, classical Ts’mysen formline design. Similar to other types of formline you would see on the Northwest Coast, but ours has its own unique characteristics. I wanted to make sure that the overall design would compliment the curvature of the frame.

  1. And the eagle, can you share with us the significance of this bird for Indigenous people?
  2. The significance of eagles can differ from nation to nation, but there are a few things that seem to be fairly common. They usually represent wisdom, strength and a sense of freedom.

Considering they are the highest-flying birds, most view them as being the closest to the creator.

Eagles have been used as an example of great sight by many cultures, but they are also perceived to have a certain spiritual clarity.

The eagle has a personal significance to me because my great-great grandfather on my Cree side carries the name Mikisew, which translates to “the call of the eagle” in the woodlands Cree language. Our band was named Mikisew after him because he was an important part of the treaty process with the Dené and the government.

  1. How did this collaboration between yourself and AYA Optical come about?
  2. Designer Carla D’Angelo reached out to me saying that she was a fan of my art and asked about the possibility of a collaboration. After doing a bit of research, we had an in-person meeting where she laid out her vision and was very accommodating to my concerns and expectations. I am very happy with how this has turned out.
  3. Why is this collaboration important/significant to you?
  4. Collaborations with companies like AYA Optical give me the opportunity to share my art with a larger audience. Most of my art is expressed through sculpture, but you can’t get the same level of exposure because it is not as accessible as wearable art.

I can be fairly particular when I choose to collaborate with a company; their standard for quality and their values must align with mine. AYA Optical is philanthropic, their focus on Indigenous art and the way they represent the artists they collaborate with, made my decision easy.

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