AJ Vandrie grew up in Northumberland Hills with his adoptive family. His background is composed of Ojiway/Chippewa and Irish heritage. He pursued his art studies at the White Mountain Academy of the Arts in Elliot Lake, a school, located in an isolated area in Northern Ontario, sought to combine First Nations and European approaches to art, which was a great fit for AJ. After his first year of studies, he suffered a personal loss, with the death of his birth father and mother who died within a sort period of time from one another.
It was at this time that AJ began exploring the art style that he is known for today. Widely considered Woodland School of Art, this style is synonymous with the artist Norval Morriseau, whose influence is evident in the works seen here. One can find definite similarities between these two artists; style aside, they are both deeply spiritual, sharing, through their art, personal and cultural stories. However, AJ has certainly developed his own unique style. Known for its hard black outlines, bright pure colours, and distinct backgrounds, this art is certainly to be appreciated on its own merits.
Wanting to complete his studies, AJ learns that the school in Elliot Lake has closed its doors. He turns to the Haliburton School of the Arts where he continues to study, graduating with honours and awards. Inspired by the spiritual energy in nature, AJ transforms his visions and dreams into works of art, which he describes as ‘bringing the outside in’.
He illustrates the flow and energy in his work creating action in the painting. The bold black outlines depict the body of the subject and the blue indicates the spirit within. A collection of his work is painted using the four sacred colours; white, black, read and yellow. All combined, they create an earthy reddish brown.
At his studio in Stockdale, AJ describes the process of his paintings and how he gets absorbed into the work, how it calms him and makes things around almost disappear. He describes the feeling as quiet and collected, allowing him to focus on keeping his breathing calm as he works. Each piece is signed with a distinct flower signifying his Ojibway name ‘Wahbegona’ meaning Wild Flower, a name given to him by his father. Looking at the many works he currently has on the go, I asked how he knows when a particular piece is complete. He laughs. “You just have a sense; when it is all in balance, that is when it is done.”
AJ Vandrie is the featured artist on the Spring issue of The Link Magazine available now near you! Pick up your copy today.