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Bold: Painting in the outdoors is nice work when you get it

Two Nova Scotia men are painting a new mural in downtown Sudbury in the Mi’kmaq Eastern Woodlands tradition 

A couple of Halifax-based visual artists are enjoying Sudbury's summer weather thanks to being invited to the city to paint a fresh mural downtown. Chris Mitchell and Greg Mitchell, twin brothers of Mi'kmaq heritage, were commissioned by Sudbury's Up Here Urban Art + Music Festival.

They have been painting a new mural on the old building adjacent to Sudbury's downtown YMCA.  The mural is a depiction of Canadian wildlife in the popular eastern woodlands style that many Canadians would recognize.

"Well, yeah, this is because I did a drawing originally and then we just freehanded this based on a drawing I did. It is just a woodland style okay, because we're from a Woodland Nation from East Coast Mi'kmaq," Greg explained. 

"So this is similar to Mi'kmaq petroglyphs. The moose is very common. So this is a moose and a bear. The black bear is important in Mi'kmaq spirituality. And then also they're both animals that are, you know, native to the area," Greg said. 

The painting style, with the bold strokes and vivid colours, abstract form and nature themes has some similarity to the work of the late Norval Morrisseau, the iconic Indigenous artist from Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation in the Lake Nipigon area of Northern Ontario. Greg said Morrisseau was indeed the grandfather of that popular style. 

Chris remarked it was one of the reasons for their choice of paint. He said their choice was to use a heavier duty outdoor house paint with strong colours. 

"It requires just one layer. You can do it a lot quicker and it's way more vibrant. So, we actually use the same paint we use in the studio or on canvases for fine art," Chris said.

He added that the colour palette is reminiscent of colours used by Indigenous artists half a century ago. 

"We wanted that to look kind of like red ochre. We use those kinds of colors and we're going to throw some royal blue in here to make it pop, but kind of give it that like Woodland arts style from the ’60s and ’70s. That's kind of the main inspiration," Chris said. 

Painting murals in the outdoors has its own level of attraction, the brothers said. Normally, they are confined to a studio working on canvas producing fine arts. Chris said that has its limits. 

"You just can't work in there for a long period of time. So it's nice. We get a breeze here. And we love to see somebody come by to talk which is nice. Yeah, I like the outdoors more because I like fresh air instead of being, you know, cooped up indoors all day," Chris said.

Greg said murals have become part of the urban landscape in many North American cities.

"I mean I see it in Ontario for sure. You go to Toronto, and there's graffiti or street art everywhere. And it's kind of like it's almost a tourism thing, in a sense, like  a graffiti alley," Greg said.

He said doing murals is not a mainstay for their artwork like some painters. Greg said in most cases it is because someone likes an image they have already created and the mural work is basically transferring that image to a larger canvas, or in this case, a brick wall.

Chris said he sees murals becoming an urban art form that will only increase in popularity in the coming years. 

"It's because for so many cities and towns in Canada, they're only 100 years old or so," said Chris. He said looking back at all those buildings, all he sees are so many square shapes and rectangles.

"So okay now years later, when we realize that all these boxes are soul-crushing, it's like well, we can paint them. So I think nowadays when people realize, oh, let's make these flat boxes look more visually appealing."

The Mitchells have a website for their art business at .

Len Gillis is a reporter at Bold is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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