Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jim Oskineegish, Second Generation Woodland Artist

     Back in 2005, Jim Oskineegish made a conscious decision to paint in the woodland style, a move away from his surrealist works, which sold well. Both a nephew of Jim’s and Norval Morrisseau were living in British Columbia at the time so Jim sent his nephew three of his new woodland styled paintings for Morrisseau to see. 
    Although Jim’s paintings were blessed by Morrisseau and Jim was granted approval to continue painting in the woodland style, Jim was asked by local elders not to depict First Nations stories or to depict imagery and narratives from dreams that might come to him. With a bloodline descending from medicine men, the elders thought it best for Jim to respect imagery as private messages from the spirits.
     Respecting this request Jim paints primarily animals that intrigue him and is today incorporating the style for a series to celebrate the heroes of his seriously troubled childhood. The likes of Bruce Lee and Freddy Mercury will get the woodland treatment  and will be incorporated into a film by local filmmaker, Michelle Derosier some time next year. 
Hummingbird, Acrylic on Canvas
     Any subject Jim endeavours to paint will have the power, colour, composition and energy that we’ve come to appreciate from the woodland style, not in an inverted critical contemporary fashion, but with the knowledge of an artist who delights in beauty and bold imagery using skills obtained from years of practice since childhood and from a formal education with three years spent in the Lakehead University visual arts program. 
     Although represented by five different galleries, here at the Ahnisnabae gallery and out west, painting for Jim is still a hobby. He is employed full time in Sioux Lookout at the Ahnisnabae Friendship Centre, working with people off reserve from children to seniors. He is also renovating his house but manages to find spare time to paint. 
     Jim was born in Nikina, near Geraldton in 1964 to an Ojibwe mother and Polish father. His mother is of Fort Hope First Nations and his father was an immigrant after World War II. His mother was affected the the 1960’s scoop where the OPP took children and sold them for profit to other families often in other countries. In Poland Jim’s father persevered under German rule and survived a Nazi death camp.
     This combination of violent history and emotional trauma did not make for a pleasant upbringing for Jim. He was taken from his abusive parents at the age of five to be tormented and nearly murdered in foster care. With three foster placements, each traumatic, but one more than the others, he was beaten, cut with knives, put out in the cold, and often choked. Jim states, “One of the beatings I got was so bad that I eventually got a tumour.” 
Sleeping Giant
     After dealing with pain for years the tumour was spotted with a Catscan and Jim was sent to Ottawa to have a kidney removed. Jim sights as an example of one of his beatings a time when he was sent out to get groceries from the corner store. He missed one of the items on the list and he was severely beaten by his foster mother. 
     Jim has children of his own and is proud that they’ve grown up happy and educated. Yet he still deals with issues of his past. He excelled at sports, which gave him strength and physical confidence, but it was his popular culture icons that gave him hope and a way of dealing with his emotional trauma. Being active gave him strength, but Jim took on bullies in Westfort by pretending to be Bruce Lee. “Bruce Lee gave me courage. A gang of bullies were going to beat me up, but I told them I had to get my Bruce Lee socks first. So I ran home, and I could have just stayed home, but I did what I promised, came back with my Bruce Lee socks and beat all five of them up.” 
Thunder Bird
     He was able to find meaning and emotional release in lines from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and cry for the first time in years. “Freddy Mercury helped me to express myself,” he says.
     As a child he drew goalies and other hockey players that he admired. “I am currently doing a thirteen part series called My Heroes, paintings of people who were my inspirations, who generated ideas, who helped me to continue to push forth and survive as a child from five years of age to nineteen.”  

     Keeping the few galleries that represent him stocked is a challenge. On average he does a painting a week. He applies quality Liquitex acrylics with watercolours to get a smooth texture, laying the paint three times or so with bold colours and then twice with black lines. He’s noticed a change in his skill level, improving gradually, and keeps the prices in all the galleries the same. “I do not undersell my work as that would hurt my relationship with my business partners at the galleries.”

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Gallery 33 and The Painted Turtle Art Shop in Thunder Bay

Run separately yet conjoined under the same roof, a young Kristen Wall has run Gallery 33 for two and a half years while her cohorts, Lorraine Cull and Angie Jenson have run the Painted Turtle Art Shop for fourteen. Together they have served Thunder Bay well with art shows, procuring art supplies for individuals and groups, especially schools, and offering classes and contributing to the community extensively. Further progress was made with their move from the downtown North Core to the corner of Balsam and River St. next to George’s Market where they have benefited from free parking and walk by traffic.  
     About forty visual artist and ten authors are represented in the gallery where sections of the wall and displays are rented to new and emerging local and regional talent. The quality and variety vary, but there are enough stunning works to make the gallery a professional space with noteworthy artists. Other items such as soaps, jewelry, books, cards, sculpture, pottery, glasswork and prints are sold throughout along with specialty items like Wolfhead coffee and Chocolate Cow. The chocolate is soon to be restocked as it had a habit of melting in the summer months.
    As part of the mission to support artists, the public is offered classes, the most popular being Paint and Wine Nights, occurring multiple times a month. These are public and private parties, a fun way to get together with friends and try out acrylic paints. As Fall hits, classes for children and youth are offered where they can draw and paint using watercolours and oils. 
     At a youthful twenty-seven, Kristen has an Honours Bachelor in Fine Arts and has lived in Thunder Bay her entire life. “I’ve always been into art,” says Kristen, “and always imagined the business would be attached to my house, but this opportunity fell out of the sky and I jumped on it. The work is a lot more commercial than I thought it would be, but I’ve been able to shape it in the image I wanted, which is to give the gallery that homey feel.”
     With a faux fire place and tan coloured walls Kristen designed the space to be warm and welcoming, unlike a typical white-walled gallery space. “We have CBC Radio on all the time,” she smiles. 
     Kristen has had little time for her own art, earning some of her living by teaching most of the classes. Other income is generated through art commissions, space rentals and the occasional sale of her own art. Artists Linda Dell, Ken Crawford and Betty Nash have been brought in to teach classes. Coming soon is Rene Beerthuizen who will teach oil painting. 

 Bursting from the corner of the gallery is a virtual potpourri candy display for artists. Here is the Painted Turtle Art Shop where you get that magic feeling of opportunity, where you can enter other worlds by creating your own portals. Shelves crammed with gleaming art supplies are offered to professionals and novices alike, the tools of the trade that every artist and wannabe needs in order to play around or get serious. It’s a challenge worth taking.
     Formerly owned for many years by artist Ruth Tye-McKenzie, the art supply shop moved around from Red River Road to Cumberland. Co-owners Lorraine and Angie took it over in 2003 before the moves feeling the need to keep Ruth's legacy and the shop running. Angie spends her time managing the books and the waterfront’s “Baggage Building” these days. Lorraine is the constant stalwart of the shop and thus a virtual window to the arts community. Recalling the days of Norval Morrisseau and Roy Thomas, Lorraine offers up stories of wild artists and art crimes that I can’t disclose. Instead I can say Lorraine is a wonderful source of information about the supplies, local talent and events.
     The Painted Turtle has also contributed to the city with a long list of membership on boards to improve the arts within the city, with donations to schools, galleries, and to artists with prizes at various high school and University shows. It's been a tradition to give back to the art scene since the shop's inception. 
     On a personal note, the Painted Turtle is where I ordered my first batch of linen to paint large oil portraits when I was eighteen, knowing that the master painters of the past used only the best materials I was determined to emulate them. So I saved my pennies for top quality oil paints and quality linen, thinking my paintings would last for hundreds of years. Time will tell.