Local Couchiching artist signs to art gallery in the U.K.

By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

He is the perfect example of “it’s never too late.”

It’s never to chase what you are passionate about, just like it was never too late for Thomas Sinclair, 44, who started painting in 2018 and is now signed to a gallery in London, England.

Sinclair is Ojibway from Couchiching First Nation and creates woodland style paintings.

His bright and bold paintings blend traditional legends and relationships between people, animals, and plants.

Sinclair was recently signed to Hansford and Sons Fine Art gallery in London, England. Sinclair said he is currently in talks with them about having a solo art show. This is the third gallery he is signed to.

“I knew my whole life that I could do this, and I just thought of it more of a hobby than anything that it’s become. I never wanted to be an artist. It just happened.”

Sinclair was taught woodland style art as a child by Isadore Wadow, until his passing in 1984.

“I always liked to draw and he showed me a lot of the woodland art symbols and the birch bark scrolls,” Sinclair said. “That’s where the roots of all my symbols come from as well as growing up in Fort Frances and Couchiching; the rivers and lakes are loaded with them.”

Sinclair said although Wadow was only in his life for a few years, those years were very monumental, adding that Wadow was the first person to put a paint brush in his hand.

On March 14, 2020, Sinclair had his first art show and two days later, the provincial shutdown was in order.

“I had four hours of my own art show but that’s four hours more than my teacher had so it’s a glorious blessing for me to be able to say that I had those four hours,” Sinclair said.

Art has followed Sinclair throughout his life in different mediums but the catalyst for his art journey was in 2018 when his mother had cancer.

“I was at home with my cousin and a friend and I was really nervous,” Sinclair said. “I felt like my life had fallen apart and I didn’t know what to do so my cousin said ‘you used to paint, why don’t you sit down and paint something’ so that’s when I started.”

Sinclair has never had any formal training. He said he has done some paintings but nothing of this magnitude.

A few years prior to when he began painting in 2018, Sinclair said he was in an unwell mental state, suffering from PTSD from his previous job.

“I painted a picture of myself and I didn’t really realize how terrible my view of myself was and I worked my way through it and now the only thing that I want to paint is beautiful bright colours,” Sinclair said. “Sharing these little bits of culture and spirituality is how I feel connected to the universe and to nature.”

Sinclair said before he paints he puts down some tobacco and says thank you.

“Sometimes I’ll put some pencil lines down just to centre the spirit that I’m painting whether it’s a bear, I’ll try to centre that but more often than not, I’ll just sit down in front of a blank canvas with a brush in my hand and I’ll just start going,” Sinclair said. “Every time I dip my paintbrush into the paint, I’m watching how much paint goes on the bristles and how much pressure I put as it’s applied and how the paint rolls off the bristles.”

Sinclair adds that he tries to study his brush strokes so that each is better than the last one.

Sinclair said he is currently working on three paintings. He is also sending paintings to an outdoor art fair in Venice, Italy, this week and will have his third spotlight on Canadian Art Daily next Wednesday.

In two of the galleries that show Sinclair’s art, he is the only native artist on the roster creating cultural art. Sinclair said this is a huge privilege because it is another barrier being broken where traditional native woodland art is being brought into the contemporary galleries.

Thomas Sinclair has been signed to an art exhibit in London, England. Sinclair grew up in Couchiching First nation, and learned about woodland art from Isadore Wadow. submitted photo