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Tom Wilson has had his share of highlights throughout a multi-faceted artistic career.
As a musician, Wilson attainted fame with a number of bands, including as the frontman for Junkhouse, a rock group formed in 1989 that still occasionally performs.
But it is Wilson’s writing and skill as a painter that has him back in the spotlight.
His art exhibit titled Mohawk Warriors, Hunters & Chiefs will open to the public Feb. 2 at the Cultural Goods Gallery located in Toronto.
On Feb. 3, Wilson will provide an artist’s talk at the gallery and be available to sign copies of a new book he co-authored, also titled Mohawk Warriors, Hunters & Chiefs.
Wilson, who is 64, grew up in Hamilton. In his best-selling memoir titled Beautiful Scars, released in 2017, he details his discovery that he was born to Mohawk parents from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory.
Wilson had been adopted, though that wasn’t revealed to him until later in his life, and the woman who was known to him as his cousin Janie was, in fact, his biological mother. And while Janie was very present in his life, she had been sworn to secrecy about the adoption. Beautiful Scars was later turned into a film that can be viewed on YouTube. See our story about the film here: https://windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/film-explores-fallout-fam…
Wilson newest book further delves into his identity through his paintings. These pieces of art explore what it meant for Wilson to be removed and then eventually reconnected with his heritage.
Wilson has been painting since the late 1990s. His latest exhibit features artwork he has created in the past decade.
“My art has taken on a bit of a different road since discovering the blood that runs through me, finding out 10 years ago that I was not the sweaty, puffy Irish guy that I thought I was,” he said.
That discovery has had a deep impact on Wilson.
“So that just changed everything about my art, my writing, my music, all the way around,” he said. “All of a sudden I was creating with intent to not only put my Mohawk culture, my blood into the light, but also to connect myself to a culture that, I had been recording saying in the past, I’m just shaking hands with and introducing myself to.”
Long before he knew he was Mohawk, many said that Wilson’s art had Indigenous influences.
Wilson’s daughter told him back in 2005 to stop painting like he was because it was cultural appropriation. He said that being “a knucklehead”, he didn’t know what that term meant.
“I was detailing and doing shapes and representing faces in a very simple way because that’s how I paint,” he said. “And then 10 years ago I find out that I’m actually Mohawk. And all this art was my blood memory. I can’t be any less dramatic saying it like that.”
For Wilson, this marks the second time he has had an art exhibit in Toronto. His first one was back in 2000 and focused on musicians who paint.
Besides Wilson’s work, that exhibit also included paintings from R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe and Canadian producer and musician Daniel Lanois.
As for Wilson’s new exhibit, it includes a residential school component featuring nine desks. Burnt onto the tops of those desks are pictures of families of students who attended the schools. The piece is called “Faded Memories of Home.”
“I created it because a conversation needs to happen in this country,” Wilson said. “And people, Canada, almost needs to be nudged a little bit. It needs to be okay to start talking about residential schools freely and accepting the reality of it in this country. It’s time for Canada to take a good look in the mirror and see what it actually looks like in this country, not only to themselves but through the Indigenous lens.”
Wilson enjoys the fact he has become an Indigenous advocate.
“That’s my job right now, to make this conversation happen,” he said. “Every time I go on stage, I talk about how we have to open up our hearts. We have to start showing patience and gratitude and love to everybody we meet for the seven generations coming up behind us.”
Wilson’s favourite painting, which is not part of the Toronto exhibit, is called “Kahnawake The Long Way Home”. He has no intention of selling this piece. It is currently hanging in the living room of his Hamilton home.
“It’s a two-headed warrior and I consider it a self-portrait because of my two worlds, the world I have lived in and the world where my blood is from,” Wilson said.
“I started putting two faces on bodies and this is the first one that I did. When I stood back from them I started writing portions of my book into the canvas and I kind of realized I’m doing a self-portrait here of the two worlds that I live in are being represented in this one piece. So, I repeated that a couple of times in different forms. That’s my favourite piece because it’s a picture of me. Who doesn’t love a picture of themselves?”
More information on Wilson’s exhibit and book is available at https://culturalgoodsgallery.com/collections/mohawk-warriors-hunters-chiefs-the-art-of-tom-wilson-tehohahake
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