The Final Works at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

By Sydney McInnis

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is currently hosting a collection of art that draws from a culture that is near and dear to our area. The exhibition, which runs until September 24, is an assortment of bold, expressionistic paintings by Anishinaabe artist Arthur Shilling.

Arthur Shilling: The Final Works features 30-35 of Shilling’s paintings, many of which have not been presented publicly before. The works begin in 1979, when he moved back to his home community of Rama First Nation, until just before he died as a result of illness in 1986. Archival materials that showcase Shilling’s artistic process—such as his sketches, drawings, and palettes—are also be displayed.

During his time spent back in Rama First Nation, near Orillia, ON, he created distinctive expressionistic paintings that are “energetic yet contemplative,” says Nadia Kurd, curator of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Inspired by his traditional Anishinaabe background, the works combine Western painting techniques as well, forming Shilling’s distinguishing style.

Ojibway Dreams (Suzanne), 1984, oil on board, 88.9 x 71.1cm

Ojibway Dreams (Suzanne), 1984, oil on board, 88.9 x 71.1cm

The exhibition shows the mixture of Shilling’s experiences with Aboriginal culture and life in modern Canadian society, and the struggles that come along with being a part of both worlds. Although Shilling was not drawn to painting in the style of earlier Anishinaabe artists, “he was keenly interested in exploring his identity and had a large repertoire of portrait paintings—of mostly family and friends,” Kurd states. Shilling found importance in discovering the ways in which traditional Ojibway culture might be embraced in the context of the contemporary Canadian world.

The exhibition has been curated by Shilling’s nephew, William Kingfisher, through the Art Gallery of Peterborough. It stands to pay respect to Shilling’s contributions to contemporary Aboriginal art. “As a public art gallery with a significant collection of Indigenous art from across Canada, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is committed to the exhibition, education, and dissemination of contemporary art by Aboriginal artists,” says Kurd. “We have twelve works by Arthur Shilling in our collection and we look forward to highlighting the continuing strength and vibrancy of his art to local and regional audiences.”

Other works of Shilling’s are available for viewing in the permanent collections of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Canadian Museum of History, the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as the Canadian Embassy Collection in Washington, D.C.

Featured image: Ojibway Dreams (young girl in dream), 1984, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 101.6 cm

Photos courtesy of the estate of Arthur Shilling, Michael Cullen, TPG Digital Arts Toronto