MONTREAL - He's already one of the country's foremost painters and a member of the Order of Canada, but Alex Janvier was still thrilled Tuesday about receiving a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

"Pretty wild, pretty fuzzy in the legs," was how the soft-spoken Janvier replied with a chuckle when asked how he felt about his latest accolade. "It's been a long haul."

"I'm not quite sure if I've really earned it yet, but by the time I'm out of here I should have a better grasp of what really took place here today."

Janvier, who lives in Cold Lake, Alta., was one of eight winners to receive the $25,000 prizes, which will be presented by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall on Friday in Ottawa.

Other recipients include Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak, Quebec filmmaker Serge Giguere, Montreal-based sculptor Michel Goulet and multidisciplinary artists Tanya Mars of Toronto and Vancouver resident Eric Metcalfe.

Chantal Gilbert, a jeweller and artistic knifemaker, gets the Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in the fine crafts. She lives in Quebec City.

Shirley Thomson, a former director of the Canada Council for the Arts, is the recipient of the award for outstanding contribution to the arts.

"These artists take us on an extraordinary journey, delving into the very meaning of the world around us, exploring the conscious and subconscious spaces that surround us," Jean said in a statement.

"They are inspiring an ever-increasing number of young people of all ages, piquing their curiosity, awakening their imaginations and best of all stirring their artistic impulses."

Mars, whose multidisciplinary artwork has included eclectic subject matter such as cheerleaders and vaudeville, did a little dance and clapped her hands when she was announced as a winner.

"Visual artists are not necessarily considered celebrities in our culture," she said. "I think it's really important to bring attention to artists who make work in visual and media arts and not just actors and actresses and writers."

Mars tries to "make sense of the world" with her art, which encompasses performance, sculpture and video.

"It's a challenge. I like art that makes me think about my existence in the world and I hope that my art practice does the same for my audience," the Toronto resident said. Sometimes drawing on lighthearted subject matter helps.

"I really believe in a sense of humour. I think that makes hard subjects sometimes easier to take."

Goulet said the Governor General's Award is a way of making his art "known across the country."

"It's a very challenging prize," he added. "People look up at you and think that you now cannot make a false move."

During the last 30 years, Goulet has developed an eloquent body of work from a background of minimalism and conceptual art.

He is encouraged by what he sees among the new crop of Canadian artists.

"In Canada, young artists are really fabulous. If you look at what's happening around us, it's very interesting. I go to galleries and see this work and I think that it is challenging and innovative and a new discourse on art."

He encouraged new artists to find their own voice and not imitate others.

Janvier, who draws a lot of his inspiration from his Dene roots, says he developed the style that has marked his 40-year career during his third year in art school.

"One afternoon I did a few strokes of watercolour and I thought, 'Here I am. This is me,' " he said. "I developed it over time and once developed, it became the style that most people know me by."

He had some succinct advice for the next generation of artists.

"Keep painting and don't die."