BY DUNCAN WELLER
BACK in 2005, Jim Oskineegish made a conscious decision to paint in the woodland style, a move away from his surrealist works. A nephew of Jim’s and Norval Morrisseau lived in British Columbia at the time. Jim sent his nephew three 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.
Jim’s paintings have all the power, colour, composition and energy that we’ve come to appreciate from the woodland style, earned with 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, Jim is employed full time in Sioux Lookout at the Ahnisnabae Friendship Centre, working with people off reserve from children to seniors.
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 the Second World War.
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.
Sadly his parents became abusive and at the age of five his situation didn’t improve. 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.”
This eventually lead to a kidney being removed as an adult.
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,” he recalled. “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.”
Jim has a few paintings at the Ahnisnabae gallery and they sell often enough to make local artists jealous.
Duncan Weller is a writer and visual artist known for his children’s picture books which can be found, along with his artwork, at either his gallery at 118 Cumberland Street or Saturday mornings at the Country Market. You can write to him at email@example.com.