WKP Artist Spotlight - Jessica Somers
Jessica Somers was born in Sudbury Ontario and is currently residing in Lavigne Ontario. She is Odanak Abenaki and her grandmother is Metis. She is greatly influenced by her grandmother who enjoyed creating scenic and wildlife paintings. Her father's passion for carpentry, along with his hard work ethics and determination are what attributed her success as an artist today. Jessica loves creating paintings that represent knowledge of the natural world that we learn and share through generations. Jessica is captivated by the teachings of elders in her community and her Nation. She creates art that connects to these teachings. This honours her ancestors while also ensuring the knowledge is passed. Jessica uses her artwork as self-reflection, a way of seeking peace, sharing knowledge, teaching moral lessons, and/or telling stories. Jessica believes that art has been survivable, a way of holding on to stories, and expressing and sharing Indigenous identities.
As a featured artist within 'Urban Indigi-Nation,' a group exhibition at the WKP Kennedy Gallery in partnership with the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, we interviewed Jessica to learn more about herself and her artistic practice.
What inspires your art?
I am Odanak Abenaki and Metis currently residing in Lavigne ON. I create artistic work that reflects Indigenous teachings. It is rooted in teachings of the culture. I acquire knowledge and stories from elders in my community and share it through the pieces I paint.
How do you start a piece, and what steps do you take in your process?
My pieces start with laying down tobacco and asking my ancestors for guidance. At times it can take weeks or months to get a “vision” of what I’d like to create.
Is there a specific medium you enjoy working with the most?
My artwork is acrylic based. I love to create artwork on feathers, wood, birchbark, peeled poplar, leaves, hats, milk jugs, old saws, paddles and of course canvas. I enjoy painting with acrylic because of the fast drying time and has easy clean up.
Tell us about your studio set-up.
My studio is in the loft part of my two story home on Lake Nipissing. It is filled with paint, wood, birch bark, cattails, corn husks, beads, sewing materials, feathers and of my completed artwork. Through my eyes, I see it as “organized chaos”. My studio has taken over my spare rooms as well.
How do you define success as an artist?
For me, success means that I have used all of my capabilities to the fullest. I am just at the beginning journey of my culture. I believe the knowledge that I am acquiring from elders and knowledge keepers will strengthen my success and passion for my people. I have strict discipline, waking at 4am to paint so that I can spend the remainder of the day with my two year old daughter. One other aspect of my continued success is the fact that my work is evolving but not losing its signature style.
Are there any artists that you look up to or who influence your practice?
There are so many artists that I look up to. Jackie Traverse, Leland Bell, Norval Morriseau, Chief Lady Bird, are just a few.
Is there a specific work you’ve completed that you are the most proud of?
I love to create with children and youth. The most impactful and proud moments are when I am in the schools and watching the students learn about the culture while painting the mural. It acknowledges the Truth and Calls to Actions, engages cross cultural communication, teaches collaboration and allows the students to create something with pride for their school.
Do you have any advice for new and emerging artists?
I encourage all artists to become more vulnerable with their pieces. It took years to learn to be vulnerable and to appreciate the weaknesses I have as an individual and as an artist. This is why it takes so long for an artist to become “known”. I believe that art is like language; it is a medium to express ideas and to share information. Art helps share thoughts, ideas and visions that may not be able to be articulated any other way. Art has a full range of expression. The process of creating art engages people mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Creative art pieces can provide a history lesson, a historical record, a preservation of culture. It will document events and experiences and will allow individuals a richer understanding of the Indigenous history. We need art to understand and to share our individual and shared history.