Artist and entrepreneur Patrick Hunter has made it his personal goal to help bring more Indigenous creativity into the world.
And now, some big players in Canada’s business community are taking notice.
Hunter, a two-spirit Ojibwe visual artist from Red Lake, has amassed an impressive number of partners in Canada’s corporate world, including a new commission for Hyundai Canada. A piece for the car maker is expected to be hanging on the walls of the company’s head office in Markham later this year.
That’s in addition to his work with Rogers for the Every Child Matters movement, and partnerships with RBC, Staples, TD Bank and BMO.
It’s a level of success and exposure that many artists dream of attaining that, despite a lifelong passion for creative works, certainly didn’t cross Hunter’s mind while growing up in a northwestern Ontario gold mining town.
“Being from Red Lake, art is not the first thing you would think about in terms of a career,” said Hunter, who splits his time between Northern Ontario and Toronto.
But the small community, where news of his art world success is more likely to be spread by word of month at the grocery store, also serves as his inspiration.
The influence of Canadian woodland artist Norval Morrisseau still echoes across the area, as several offices, buildings and homes display his seminal work.
“I grew up seeing Morrisseau’s artwork all throughout town, like in public places like the doctor's office, or the grocery store, or even at people’s houses,” Hunter said.
“I wasn't really aware that seeing his work was an isolated experience, that Indigenous people don't always get to experience their culture embraced in public spaces as much as I did.”
But as he moved further south, first for studies at Sault College then on to Toronto, Indigeneity all but “disappeared,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who now calls Toronto his base of operations, said the southern Ontario audience has been very receptive to his style of Woodland School-influenced paintings.
“I think they're curious for sure,” Hunter said. “There is such a shift in mainstream culture to want to be more inclusive.”
Hyundai, Hunter working on 'longer-term' partnership
The partnership between Hyundai and Hunter began when the automobile manufacturer invited the artist to lead a virtual paint class during National Indigenous Month in 2022.
“Patrick shared stories of the importance of the feather imagery to his family and his community and this really resonated with our team members,” said Katherine Mior, Hyundai Auto Canada’s manager of human resources and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), in an email. “The event provided insights on how art impacts and influences other cultures.”
“The more we engaged with Patrick and understood the many projects he was involved in, such as designing the Orange Shirt Day logo for 2020 and 2021 and other partnerships where his work was focused on supporting Indigenous charities and giving voices to Indigenous businesses, we had hoped this could be a longer-term relationship,” Mior said.
Although the project is still in its “brainstorming” phase, Mior said the end goal is to tell a story through Indigenous imagery and Woodland style.
“We started our relationship with Patrick and continued to support him for a number of reasons: he is an extremely talented artist, the many initiatives he is part of to help give back to the Indigenous community, and his commitment on sharing his culture through art.”
Doubts, depression in the early days
Hunter’s journey to becoming a successful artist wasn’t without some bumps in the road.
His first few years in Toronto were often exhausting as he struggled against mounting debt. Regular paycheques were “up in the air,” while holding down a job as a line cook.
“It was hard to just make enough to cover the rent, and then hopefully pay a bill or two.”
Hunter continued to take unpaid internship gigs as a graphic designer, trying to get a foothold in that industry while still selling his paintings to grateful collectors, often for much less than they were worth.
After spinning his wheels in Toronto, Hunter eventually took a chance, more of a shift in mindset that helped propel him to his current level of success.
“I remembered that I'm a good painter, so I just took on a lot of commissions all at once. I really bet on myself.”
There’s a lesson in his story for budding entrepreneurs.
He simplified his approach, dropped all distractions, and concentrated on what he was best at, and what people were interested in purchasing. The renewed focus allowed him to devote his energy where it was going to do the most good.
Despite being a gamble, Hunter said the choice to focus elicited a sense of ease, and a renewed sense of purpose.
“I think when people go all in on themselves, or they bet on themselves, the universe or the world or whatever it is opens up opportunities that are a little bit more flowing.”
“When you do make those big shifts, you just feel like you're on the right path.”
As he learned the ins and outs of the business world, Hunter soon realized that his artistic talents were sought after by the corporate world.
TD Bank came calling, along with Staples, BMO, RBC and other entities on Toronto’s Bay Street.
Even media giant Rogers got involved, commissioning Hunter for a painting commemorating Orange Shirt Day.
So enthusiastic was the reception for his work, that Rogers then followed up by digitizing Hunter’s artwork for their orange shirt campaign, displaying it on the enormous digital screens at Young-Dundas Square.
“Seeing that whole machine work… they put it out in print, on social media, their TV and radio hosts wear their shirts, and talk about them,” Hunter said. “So the message really got out there and what I thought was so cool, as well, is that the work I'm doing is having an impact.”
“The thing I am good at is now reaching millions of people across the country and raising money for something that needs extra help.”
Seeing his artwork adorn T-shirts, on billboards, and in the hallways of iconic Canadian buildings was a “keep going” moment for Hunter.
“It’s about realizing the power and the impact of the work that I'm doing.” he said.
“Just because you're from a very small place doesn't mean that you can't effect change in the world.”