FrankPolson2

Frank Polson

Anishinaabe nation artist

From an early age, Frank found refuge in his art, taking comfort in drawing the beaver and moose he saw along the shore when his father, Walter, took him out on his trap line. It was only after a succession of art school dropouts, two separations and serving five years in a federal penitentiary that Frank used his art to put himself on the road to independence.

It was while incarcerated that he was inspired by a library book on Norval Morrisseau. He began to create pictures, at first using house paint from the jail woodwork shop, discarded jean jackets and torn bed sheets for canvas. Prison visitors started buying Frank’s work, and during a daypass, he arranged for his first exhibition at the Thomas B. Maracle Gallery on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, where four works were sold.

An estimated 2600 paintings later, Frank has survived a substance abuse relapse, another jail term, and a heart attack. But today he is sober and maintains contact with his children and grandchildren.

Frank’s painting makes him feel like he is doing something for himself. It is exciting to him to be part of the evolution of contemporary Algonquin Art, which is now collected and exhibited around the world. As an Algonquin First Nation painter and sculptor, he has adopted his artistic heritage in a way that many elders would have never imagined, expressing his aesthetic, political, and social views in a range of styles and media.

Even when he paint in the fundamentally traditional Woodland style, his colourful and dynamic art works are fresh and modern. Frank’s realistic depictions of daily activities, northwestern Quebec wildlife, and traditional spirituality, including legends and shamanistic transformations, are very powerful. The Great Northern Diver and the Timber Wolf remain among his favourite wildlife symbols.

Every occasion he gets to show his work allows him to break his people’s isolation, to promote their traditions and build a bridge between cultures. The situation for Indigenous youth truly concerns him, so he is always very happy to share his experience with them, and tell them how much art helped him to free himself and gain access to a healthy lifestyle full of discoveries. He is very grateful to the elders who helped him regain and maintain his balance.