Roy Thomas wanted his art to teach. The Ahnisnabae-born Ojibwa artist has come to be considered as one of Canada’s most influential aboriginal artists. Born in the small Northwestern Ontario community of Long Lac, Roy is one of the leading representatives of the ‘Woodland School of Art’ – a style of painting popularized by the work of Norval Morrisseau who preceded the debut of Roy Thomas by almost 20 years. The Woodland School style is characterized by bright vivid images which portray the complex relationships between people, animals and nature. Roy’s work in particular is guided by the memories of his grandparents who recognized his talent and encouraged him to draw what he envisioned through their stories. Roy specialized in painting the visions and teachings of his people for his family, his community and his country.

Roy Thomas is recognized for his contribution to the study of Ahnisnabae art by teaching and mentoring youth and remaining committed to community. After being diagnosed with cancer, Roy Thomas passed away in 2004, leaving behind his son Randy who continues to follow in his father’s artistic footsteps. Roy held his first art exhibition at the age of 17 and since then his work has been featured at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada as well as many other galleries across Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.

The Retrospective Exhibition currently featured at the McMaster Museum of Art includes over 40 works created by Roy between 1965 and 2002. This is the first comprehensive examination of Roy Thomas’ artistic genius and impeccable style. The project was undertaken to illustrate Roy’s unique contribution to the Woodland School of Art, the nature of his achievements and to confirm his status in both the art world and in contemporary Ahnisnabae visual culture.  His large scale 1984 painting titled “We’re All in the Same Boat” depicts his idols Norval Morrisseau, Odjig, Carl Ray, Joshim Kakegamic, Blake Debassige and of course Roy Thomas, together in one canoe. The painting depicts the young and the old, the masters and the apprentices – all contributing to one grand work of art.

The impact of Roy Thomas as an artist, a mentor and a father is clear. In his memory, Roy’s wife Louise Thomas owns and operates The Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, showcasing his work as well as that of over 100 aboriginal artists from across Canada. Roy Thomas’ legacy lives on through McMaster Museum’s Retrospective exhibition, and invites all to partake in this artist’s journey to represent the spirit and traditions of Ojibwa culture.

Of particular interest at this very cold and dark time of year, this exhibit is a reminder of the vibrancy of nature and continued cycle of growth, even though outdoor life seems to have stopped and springtime regrowth seems so far away.

-       Teresa Gregorio, Museum Monitor / Information Officer, McMaster Museum of Art

Vision Circle: The Art of Roy Thomas A Retrospective Exhibition is on view at the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) until February 23rd, 2013 at the Togo Salmon, Levy and Tomlinson galleries.


Written by: Dominika Jakubiec

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