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.”
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.”
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.”