Monday, 29 June 2015

Randy Thomas: Expanding with Tradition

Young First Nations artists have opportunities unlike most others in that they have both a historic and popular base, easily identifiable and culturally significant. This is a foundation with which First Nation artists can repeat, spring forward with, or completely ignore if they so wish. Much of our Western modern art world is concerned with personal self-expression and simultaneously dedicated to modernist/contemporary ideology that many Western artists become confused trying to differentiate the two. The result is often weak art that pretends to be new and does little to express anything.
     First Nations artists however feel less of that confusion, it seems. They can incorporate North American popular culture, international fine art, or be inspired by any art form from any part of the world. This is because they have that identifiable base on which to operate.
     Randy Thomas, a self-taught artist is doing his best to avoid limiting influences, yet hanging on to a tradition that he inherited from his father, the renowned artist Roy Thomas. His mother, Louise Thomas, is also a great influence and major supporter of his work. Part of this wonderful legacy can be seen in Louise Thomas’s gallery, the Anishinabe Art Gallery, now located at 18 Court St. in the North Core in what could be called Gallery Square.
     Gallery Square is the Anishinabe Gallery, Chenier Fine Arts Gallery, Sweet North Bakery, The Picture Store, Espresso JOYA, the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, and other sundry shops and restaurants that showcase art and craft work.
    Randy has his studio in the Anishinabe Gallery’s basement where he’s got his art supplies, half completed paintings, his music, art books, history books, and his many sketchbooks. The sketchbooks contain a plethora of stylistic influences and spinoff experiments, which appear in his completed paintings and mixed media works. Within these you can see the influence of music, philosophy, science, war history, art history and even politics.
     When asked about influences Randy starts, “Oh man…” and shakes his head. “I like Miles Davis, classical music, classic rock. A lot of my insight comes through reading. I love war history,” he says indicating that his choice of colour for his palette is becoming earthier reflecting the visual influences of trenches and battlefields. 
     “I like Picasso, Carl Beam, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Lucien Freud. His paintings (Lucien’s) are what people want to see, someone they’re loyal to. He paints people as raw animals as if nobody’s around, propped up, chin to the side, lounging around with their gut hanging out.” Randy laughs. He’s also a fan of Chuck Connelly. “I really identify with him.”
      Speaking of his art in relation to the influence of Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time,’ Randy says, “I want to make it more academic, if that’s the right word. I want it to have a point to it, to have an edge to it. I’m definitely into the geometric stuff, like how the universe is created as seen through mathematics. I want to see that in my art; lines and circles and numbers. I just want to see what it would look like, like it’s my own grand design, like I’m interpreting the universe.”
     And the influences keep coming from all directions. Currently he’s playing with aesthetics, less concerned about the subject, originally believing that it would take him four years to find his own style. “I’m trying to find my own definite look, but I don’t think I’m going to get there. I’m beginning to think I’ll never find it. I want to find something that feels new to me, but still true to my roots. I want my work to be contemporary – something influenced by my times. We’re in 2015 and things are lot different.”
     Regarding young First Nations artists he states, “It’s up to my generation to evolutionize the art. It’s always changing and we’re not shy to say things.”
     When prodded about current issues and what it might mean for the art of the future, or any potential personal statements in his work Randy briefly mentions that his father was forced into a residential school.
     “I know there’s a time a time and a place for that, but I’m not there yet. I will eventually get there, because I do know that there’s always room for more voices out there with the oppression from the government and their sweeping things under the rug. I’m getting tired of it too. I’ve definitely given it a lot of thought. I’ll definitely use that anger to create something rather than just sitting there and being angry.”
     In the meantime he’s having a great deal of fun, but laments, “It’s a lot more stressful than I thought it was going to be. It’s definitely a lot of work. My boss is my own creativity,” which is energized by a great deal of self-confidence.
     And his ancestry stokes that confidence. “Most of my root digging is done through my own teaching, smudging myself, talking to my ancestors on my own. I don’t need to go anywhere to find my own spirituality. I don’t feel like I have to talk to any outsiders.”
     Yet he does, and in a bold way that helps him to spring forward with new ideas, but which is simultaneously bound to a rich historical palette. 

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