‘Part of who I am’

Tadoule Lake artist brings Indigenous-inspired paintings to Graffiti Gallery exhibit


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Jedrick Thorassie always thought art could change a life. Lately, he’s had more reasons than ever to believe it.

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Jedrick Thorassie always thought art could change a life. Lately, he’s had more reasons than ever to believe it.

Three months ago, the self-taught artist from the remote community of Tadoule Lake, Man., had his paintings on display in a main-floor space on Arthur Street. Before that, he was a virtual unknown as far as local art circles were concerned. He had no studio, and as a couch-surfing painter, no truly fixed address.

“Being an artist is all I want,” he told the Free Press in December. “It’s really f—ing hard. I’ve done a lot of jobs in my life, but nothing amounts to this. And no matter what happens, whether I make money or not, whether I have a studio or not, I am always going to be painting and making art.

“It’s just a part of who I am.”

After his stay on Arthur Street ended, Thorassie not only has his own small Exchange District studio, but a solo exhibition at the renowned Graffiti Gallery. Searching for Jedrick opens tonight. On the poster, Thorassie painted a self-portrait on the side of a milk carton. “MISSING,” he writes. “Did you saw me?”

“I’m super nervous, but also super excited,” says Thorassie. “This upcoming show will be all my work. Only my work. There’s art I thought they weren’t going to allow me to show. But they’re going to let me show everything. The whole thing is a little bit overwhelming.”

Thorassie, 40, is virtuosic in terms of style and prolific in terms of output. Wherever he goes, he is surrounded by notebooks, each page filled with scribbles and doodles which are artworks in and of themselves. His paintings depict his community in Tadoule, his interactions with nature, and his complicated relationship to this country in styles inspired by Francis Bacon, Gustav Klimt, and Michelangelo. Also a skilled cartoonist, social critic, and sketch maker, the Sayisi Dene artist’s endless curiosity is reflected clearly in his work.

“As an artist who is still developing a style, my art is created from the idea that all my works are studies,” he says. “I strive to teach myself all aspects of art: lighting, portraiture, landscapes and perspective, and the use of different colour palettes.” Other influences who Thorassie cites include the Polish surrealist Zdzislaw Beksinski and Norval Morrisseau, the renowned Anishinaabe painter from the Sand Point reserve on Lake Nipigon.

Thorassie’s works include refined commentary on religion, residential schools, colonialism and humankind’s relationships to nature. “My goal as an artist is to bring attention to issues facing Indigenous people,” he says. “I paint with the intention of expressing myself and sharing this with the world.”

With his extensive catalogue of past works, the art on display will showcase the breadth of Thorassie’s creative output, including several paintings created in his new studio — the first dedicated space he’s had to paint since pursuing art full time six years ago.

“I find I work best when I’m by myself,” he says. “I get to sit there all day, every day. I really am in my comfort zone.”

Kerri Parnell, the gallery coordinator for Graffiti Art Programming Inc., helped him set up the show, Thorassie says, while friend and mentor Jackie Traverse helped him find studio space.

Thorassie’s show has its opening reception at the Graffiti Gallery (109 Higgins Ave.) tonight at 7 p.m., and runs until April 23. Admission is free with a donation of a non-perishable food item.

On opening night, Thorassie will give an artist talk at 8 p.m.

“I’m really so excited about this,” he says.


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Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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