An Artist's Journey of Self-Discovery
Indigenous artist Teresa Young is known primarily for her breathtaking acrylic-on-canvas paintings that portray elements of fantasy and surrealism unique to her brand.
by Jennifer Wood
She has served as teacher of Contemporary Indigenous Art at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and her work has been displayed at exhibitions in the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy and Germany. She has created album covers for musicians in Sweden and the U.S. and the covers of books and magazines.
Young, who is of mixed Cree and Norwegian ancestry, was a child prodigy. She developed what she describes as a “singular focus” at an early age, and she prides herself in being self-taught.
“I was obsessed,” she tells [EDIT] from her home in Halifax. “I was the youngest of six, with five older brothers, and there wasn’t a lot of money. I started selling portraits when I was eight years old. Anything I made from my art I reinvested in art books or private lessons. Originally, I was more of a realistic artist, but that changed with time and as I began to learn more about myself. I can still paint realistic pieces, but it’s like pulling teeth for me.”
The gifted artist was born in Port Kells, British Columbia. Her father was a fisherman, and the family moved frequently throughout the country. When she joined the military in her early twenties, she was deployed to Nova Scotia for training. When she arrived, she knew immediately she had found her home.
“I got off the bus in Digby, and the sunset took my breath away. I am not surprised that there is an artist under every rock in Nova Scotia. The landscape, the waters and the people are beautiful – I feel like we have access to a massive painting twentyfour seven.”
Young only discovered her Indigenous roots at a later age: “My grandfather was half Cree and lived in the heart of Manitoba’s Red River Valley. He and his Irish wife had my mother in Manitoba, and when they moved to the West Coast, they changed the spelling of their last name to disguise their heritage, which was incredibly common. I could have easily ended up at a residential school, so I really don’t blame them. But many of us have been disconnected because of decisions our ancestors made when they chose their paths in life.”
Her Cree roots were permeating her art long before she fully understood her ancestry. In her twenties, her audience began pointing out that her work had an Indigenous bent. And so began her journey to discovery and the nurturing of her art to what it is today.
“It’s true what they say, you know. Blood is thicker than water.”