Headwaters

My Server has given me only 5 MB of webspace to share my bio and artist statement. As a result, I'm using these links as a hub. Much of my work has been inspired by the masina-wapikini-ganan (rock art paintings, petroglyphs and pictographs) and lately the wiigwaas-sabakoon (birch bark scrolls). The computer screen is a lot like our Anishinaabe traditional mnemonic techniques. Who said that we did not have a writing system? Watch for the Funky-Elder telling his stories when he gets his hands on the augmented reality (AR) technology coming his way! I'll be building miniature movie sets in my living room to let my Firebolt Ensemble play. Who knows? I may have a state-of-the-art movie and recording studio in the industrial park! I'm watching some serious talent out there.

Bio

An Ojibwe funky elder, visual and performing artist, award-winning author, storyteller, flute player, new media artist and a Recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. He works to fuse Ojibwe and English words into his stories, poetry and spoken word performances, Rene communicates his Ojibwe spiritual heritage to the contemporary world. He was born in the railway town of Nakina in Northwestern Ontario and was raised by his Okomissan grandmother. His education includes: Anishinaabe oral tradition, language, arts and culture. Rene has a diploma in Graphic Design from Sheridan College and a certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers. Rene’s body of artwork, stories and his flute improvisations create a strong, expressive, and entertaining presentation for an ever-increasing audience. He also has an active on-line and performing presence as a Funky-Elder and his 'virtual' band, The Firebolt Ensemble.

Artist Statement

I AM AN INDIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL SURVIVOR. MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES PROFOUNDLY CONTRIBUTE TO MY ARTISTIC WORK AND THESE PAINTINGS RELATE TO MY EXPERIENCES AT THE INDIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS AND ITS LEGACY. The paintings express my identity (who I am today) and allow me to reconcile with those former teachers, nuns and priests who told me that my Anishinaabe arts and culture were ‘pagan!’, 'dirty!' and ‘evil!’. I was forbidden to write and paint what I was seeking to express to the world, including expressing myself in my Anishinaabe language.

My body of work reflects the impact of my Residential School experiences, and resonates with fellow Survivors and their families. It’s a healing tool for communities and individuals. I believe that truth and healing will evolve and emerge from the art process itself. What else is art other than the reflection of our deepest spirit, our souls and the resilience of our valid, uncut being.

The dictionary defines reconciliation as ‘making friendly again after an estrangement; to harmonize; to make compatible’. Painting is a contemplative and cathartic experience for me, and seeks to answer many questions that I am struggling with:  Who am I reconciling with? What am I trying to reconcile? How do I achieve this reconciliation? Reconciliation exposes many feelings and emotions:  resistance, remembrance, shame, pain, resilience, rejuvenation, healing, pride, identity, and finally the restoration and integration of my Anishinaabe arts and culture with my current urban life style.

I am hoping that through my art I will learn to forgive and reconcile with my family, my ancestors, my teachers, the church, the government, my own arts and culture and the non-Native arts community. How do I forgive? Where do the apologies come from and how do they affect me? How do I portray how cultural oppression and cultural genocide impacted my life?
In addressing all these issues, I draw on the traditional symbols, signs, meanings, teachings and oral tradition of my Anishinaabe nookomis (grandmother). The medicine circle, the wiigwaas'sabakoon (birch bark scrolls), Masinawapikiniganan (rock art paintings, petroglyphs, pictographs), legends and improvised vocals that I heard as a child are integrated and re-born on the canvas. I am rooted in these teachings.

I do not describe my art form as pure Woodland style. I paint alternative portraiture in a semi-abstract style and often use historical and current photographs as a reference point. The backgrounds are painted with unique Anishinaabe symbolism to enhance my style, theme and colours.

The Anishinaabe language is highly visual. The images I paint tell a story. My art integrates the traditional and the contemporary — to bring together the past generations and the future generations. My art show and performances are ultimately a celebration of the resilient spirit, and an example of how the Anishinaabe arts can inspire, enlighten, elevate, and heal.

Please, click Flickr for my Anishinaabe digital paintings.

Featured Artwork

Patience

Background

This piece titled Patience took 5 years to paint. It was the most frustrating thing. I'd throw the canvas on the floor, lean it somewhere in the dark corner, re-work it many times over until I decided to gesso it. I was going to paint a new piece but as I was scrubbing the painting off, an image of a woman appeared communicating with a fish. This piece inspired a box of greetings cards, prints, t-shirts and plaques. Thus, the title of the painting: Patience.