The Newfoundland Mi'kmaq artist on seeking Mi'kmaq enlightenment.
by Jennifer Wood
After thousands of hours of studying his Mi’kmaq heritage and refining his craft, landscape artist Marcus Gosse has developed the signature stamp that can be found in his many creations. He integrates four components — Mi'kmaq petroglyphs and hieroglyphs, the ancient Mi'kmaq star, and various double-curve designs — into his work. His contemporaries, art enthusiasts and collectors from around the world know his work when they see it. The phrase “Oh, that's a Marcus Gosse" is telling of his success.
Marcus Gosse in front of his Mi’kmaq soup collection titled
What if Andy Warhol was Mi’kmaq?
As far back as his memory serves him, Gosse was fascinated with art. When he was a young boy, his parents heard countless complaints from teachers about the art fanatic who “did not transition well” from art to the next subject, often refusing to stop what he was working on. “When I began to study Mi'kmaq art and culture, I became so in tune with the inspiration behind it. Understanding what the masters created through quills and petroglyphs was and still is incredibly fascinating to me.”
Cod’s Country, acrylic on canvas
As fascinated as he is with Mi'kmaq art and culture, he is an equally passionate teacher. He holds a master’s degree in education, and he has been teaching students in grades 4 to 12 for over a decade. His first job was at Sandy Lake First Nation in Ontario, and it was there that Gosse began exploring his heritage.
He later taught in Nova Scotia, where he added Mi'kmaq art to the curriculum. He set out to study and teach about Mi'kmaq petroglyphs, hieroglyphs, the Mi'kmaq star and double-curve designs, and these elements eventually made their way into his work.
He is particularly interested in the eight-point Mi'kmaq star. It is believed that this is an updated version of the seven-point star that the Mi’kmaq Spirit of the Blue Jay, acrylic on canvas used to represent the seven districts of their nation. Over 500 years ago, the Mi'kmaq nation grew to eight districts with the addition of K’Taqmkuk (the island of Newfoundland), and the Mi’kmaq updated the star to eight-points to welcome their brothers and sisters. He paints the star in red, black, yellow and white. The four colours together represent harmony among all people.
“When I began my journey in studying Mi'kmaq art and culture, I was very isolated: I wasn’t dancing, drumming or taking part in ceremony or powwows. I am doing all that now. I always want to learn more about different Mi'kmaq artists — in other provinces and beyond. I know that my ancestors are with me when I create. People say that when you are an artist, you are more like a catalyst: you don’t necessarily control your art, but your ancestors and your spirit control your body.”
Island City Life, acrylic and oil on canvas
Today Gosse is focused on teaching, painting, and advocating for more outdoor displays of Mi'kmaq works in Atlantic Canada. “On the West Coast, it would be unlikely for you to visit a community and not see a totem pole,” he says. “These creations serve to educate people, they promote tourism, and they leave a lasting impression on the community. I think it is important that we see more exterior Mi'kmaq art and sculptures in Atlantic Canada. The artwork could be large-scale works, like murals with educational placards, that tell our history, which is unique to this part of the country. I have a few mural projects that were put on hold due to COVID, but I am excited to get working on them once we get the green light again.”
In 2014, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia exhibited Gosse’s painting, Seeking Mi’kmaq Enlightenment. It is now part of the gallery’s permanent collection. You can also find his work on his website and at The Rooms and The Leyton Gallery of Fine Art in Saint John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Holy Mackerel! (Sape’wig Amlumak!), acrylic on canvas
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