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Interview with artist Gene Boshkaykin

Gene Boshkaykin, an artist deeply rooted in his Indigenous heritage, began his artistic journey in Fort Frances, inspired by his late cousin, Sterling Johnson, a promising artist who was making waves in Ontario. Growing up on Seine River First Nation before moving to Duluth and eventually returning to Thunder Bay, Gene's work is profoundly influenced by his cultural background and family's traditions.


Me and my drawing of Alyssa Songoi. Pow wow dancer from Nevada. 22x28 in.
Me and my drawing of Alyssa Songoi. Pow wow dancer from Nevada. 22x28 in.

Gene, you've mentioned that your cousin, Sterling Johnson, was a significant early inspiration for your art. Can you share more about how his influence shaped your initial interest in art and how your artistic style has evolved since those early days of drawing stick figures?


I lived in the Johnson household for two years when I was a kid as my mother was struggling with alcohol. She had to move to the U.s to a rehabilitation center. It was pretty much like a jail.


My sister and I were still on the rez. She was living with her grandmother. My dad was no longer part of the picture. The Johnson household was a perfect setup as they were a non-alcoholic family with a range of siblings ages all living in the house or near. Sterling was a up and coming artist constantly painting eagles and was in the local newspaper. His art was in many houses in the rez. I would always watch him painting. A total inspiration for a young boy. He was a teenager. I could only draw stickman back then but that was the start.


Digital art I drew on my phone
Digital art I drew on my phone

Your work is deeply influenced by your Indigenous heritage. Could you elaborate on how your family's background and traditional practices have infused your art, particularly your drawings that you describe as coming 'straight from the heart'?


Drawing straight from the heart is a good terminology. It's like I'm releasing my soul into these paintings/drawings. I know, you know there will something great coming. The energy, the excitement of what, you don't know. My hope is worldwide fame. Drawing a celebrity, it's coming easy but what comes of it. Everyone can draw celebrities. Now my love for my culture is a different entity in itself. It started as a child again, attending pow wows with my foster family or my mother. Every summer you can count on pow wows being there. When you're a kid, it's all about running around, maybe chasing girls or just playing and getting a bannock burger. As I got older, I knew pow wows were something different now. You can feel your heart when you enter the pow wow. A sense of pride in your people. Putting my people on canvas or paper is just pure excitement for what the future brings. You play your cards right. Sky's the limit.


Colored pencils on colored paper 8x10 in
Colored pencils on colored paper 8x10 in

Your artwork has recently gained significant attention, even going viral on social media. How has this wider recognition impacted your career, and what has been your most memorable interaction with fans of your work online?


My most memorable interaction with my fans was the Wes Studi drawing going viral for me during covid. I posted the drawing on Facebook and the number of likes just kept going up day after day. I was just totally floating around work that week. They were in absolute awe of this post. The compliments kept coming. People were loving my stuff. I was the celebrity for that week.


Digital drawing I did on my phone
Digital drawing I did on my phone

You're planning to set up an art booth at the upcoming music festival on Indigenous Peoples Day. What can visitors expect to see at your booth, and how do you prepare for such a significant event?


Well, the music festival one I'm expecting a lot of people, not only indigenous but the rest of the city. People can expect to see my newest work. I'm always drawing or refining an old drawing. I don't do a lot of shows, but I need to start somewhere, and I hope this summer will be a good one.


My drawing of The Warriors. Classic movie from 1979. Colored pencils and acrylic paint on paper 14x21 in
My drawing of The Warriors. Classic movie from 1979. Colored pencils and acrylic paint on paper 14x21 in

Congratulations on your sobriety and the positive turns in your life and career. How has being alcohol and tobacco-free influenced your creative process and professional goals? Also, now that you are open to commissions, how do you balance these with your personal projects?


Yess, my sobriety has been a life changer for sure. I have two young daughters who are my reason to stay sober and continue pushing my career. I think living a better life has made me more aware that there is reason for all of this, which in turn affects the creative process. I'm not rich as wealthy but rich with my life with my family. Sober up yourself and you will see a new life. It's eye opening.


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