Natural Beauty: The Art of Timothy Mohan

Breaking with tradition? Perhaps. But all that matters for Métis artist Timothy Mohan is making a positive difference in the lives of others.

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Artwork by Timothy Mohan of grizzly bears
Courtesy: Timothy Mohan

The World of Mohan Art

Growing up in a small Ontario town nes­tled on the shores of Georgian Bay, I was fortunate and privileged to have incredible parents. Like so many from that generation, they did without a lot of things over the years to raise seven children. They tried their hardest and did their best. What more could a child want of a parent?

Most of my cherished memo­ries of youth revolved around creating artwork. My grand­father owned an island in Hon­ey Harbour and my summers were spent there fishing with my father, swimming with cousins and often just sitting around looking out at Georgian Bay, drawing.

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Painting of owl by Timothy Mohan
Courtesy: Timothy Mohan

My first commission

One of my earliest and fond­est memories of drawing was a picture of Snoopy that I had cre­ated for my grandfather. I must have been three or four years old at the time. It was also my first commission. I remember my grandfather sitting at the kitchen table, puffing his pipe, with large plumes of grey and white smoke filling the air as we negotiated payment. We struck a deal whereby he re­ceived an original Snoopy drawing from me and I received two Dad’s oatmeal cookies as payment. To this day, I still think I was overpaid, but he was a good man with a kind heart.

In my teen years, I found that music deeply influenced my artwork. Albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles were magical. With the volume turned up to the maximum, I could close my eyes and drift into the music. Often, images would pop into my head and I would see the artwork completed before I even started. All I had to do was reach into my mind and grab it. It’s an incredible feeling and to this day I cannot create artwork without music playing.

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Abstract painting by Timothy Mohan
Courtesy: Timothy Mohan

Inspired by a change of scenery

In the ’90s, I found myself living in British Co­lumbia and was introduced to Haida art for the first time. It literally took my breath away. Before my eyes was an art style that was bold and power­ful, yet had this spiritual feel that really touched my soul. It was the same feeling I had when I wit­nessed a sunset over the Rocky Mountains for the first time. Inspired, I knew at that moment I had found my calling—I wanted to be an artist.

Since that time, I have done a lot of solo exhibi­tions in museums and had my artwork displayed during the 2010 G­20 Summit in Toronto, but one of my biggest thrills was when I got a telephone call from Warner Bros. Television in Los Angeles. They wanted to rent ten of my Native paintings for their television production of Nikita.

With all the years of hard work, it was nice to see people accepting my artwork for what it is. Being colour­-blind and self­-taught, I’ve always been a little nervous about displaying my work for all the world to see. My father always told me, “Take pride in the things you do.” Art has given that to me and I treat every piece that I create as if it’s my last one.

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Painting of old barn by Timothy Mohan
Courtesy: Timothy Mohan

Combining different mediums

What many seem to appreci­ate in my artwork is the way multiple visual elements, derived from a variety of sources and inspirations, including my Native ancestry, wildlife and nature, are fused together into a multilayered, cohesive whole. To achieve that end result, I combine different artistic mediums, applying modern tools and techniques to the creative process.

I also try to give back to the community by help­ing out nonprofit organizations, providing, for ex­ample, an original piece of artwork or a few signed prints that could be used for raising funds. Among the causes I’ve supported so far are Ron­ald McDonald House, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Canadian Cancer Society—all very worthy endeavours.

When you get right down to it, all that really mat­ters in life, or at least in my life, is trying to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Next, check out the creations of Cree artist Kevin Pee-ace.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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