Traditional Anishinaabe Art Meets Acrylic with Rufus Moonias-Quisses

Whether it’s Haida totem polls, ribbon skirts, drums, or a beautiful canvas, Canadian First Nations artists and their artwork are as diverse as the country itself. From coast to coast to coast, the expressions of their creativity tell the stories of their history, its triumphs and achievements, as well as the disappointments and failures.

Anishinaabe artist Rufus Moonias-Quizzes and his Woodland Art
ABOVE: Rufus Moonia-Quisses is an Anishinaabe artist from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Rufus Moonias-Quisses began painting in 2020 with his daughter. He says there wasn’t much to do four years ago when the COVID-19 lockdowns began, so he picked up a paintbrush. At the same time, the member of the Neskantaga First Nation in Thunder Bay, Ontario, also began learning his native Ojibwe language.

Moonias-Quisses paints with acrylics and is always thinking about what he will paint next. He describes his artwork as both ‘Native Art’ and ‘Woodland Art,’ a style made famous in the 1960s by fellow Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau, who was awarded the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian art.

Moonias-Quisses’s cultural background is the main driving force behind his creations, which are filled with iconic imagery and traditional spirituality. Given his prolific body of work, his heritage is indeed very rich. He says, “I’ve got so many ideas and stories; I write them down and sketch them in my book.”

It takes him, on average, one month from start to finish to complete a canvas, and he often has multiple on the go at any given time. However, he says the paintings can be finished in a week if he’s fully worked out an idea and has a good mental picture.

Since Moonias-Quisses discovered his talent, he has painted well over 100 different works ranging from small wall pieces to large 65” x 50” canvases. He gifted one to Jaghmeet Singh in 2021 when the NDP Leader visited his community. Singh was so smitten with his painting that he shared it on social media.

Works on Moonias-Quisses’ Etsy page touch on traditional themes like family. His painting Love Blossoms Eternally Ceremonial Family is a heartwarming tribute to the bond between man, woman, and child. One stunning canvas depicts a newborn in the embrace of its mother and father being lifted before the sun. Another painting features Terry Fox running across the back of a turtle; in First Nations culture, North America is referred to as  Turtle Island. A separate painting depicts Fox running with an eagle or migzi, one of the most respected animals in Anishinaabe culture, representing a spiritual link to the creator.

The vibrancy of the acrylics makes the subject matter appear to leap off the canvas. The canvases look both spiritual and multidimensional despite being two-dimensional. His more recent monocoloured animal series features a more subdued colour palette of crimson, black, and pale blue and appear more sombre but are equally eye-catching.

Woodland Art by Rufu Moonias-Quizzes
ABOVE: Gratitude, 24” x 30”, acrylics on canvas. RIGHT: Muskrat, 20” x 16, acrylics on canvas.

Moonias-Quisses describes his artwork as more traditional and says that, although much of today’s First Nations artwork is a fusion of Westernized and traditional themes, he prefers to maintain a more originalist style. He says that learning his language along the way helped cement this traditionalism.

Coming from a mixed home, one of his grandfathers taught him to be a traditional man who would continue to follow customs. Moonias-Quisses says that although he lived most of his life as a Christian, he is transitioning back to his roots as an artist and is focused on creating art for himself.

His art explores Indigenous stories, and he emphasizes that his focus is not on making money but on his passion for art. In other words, he is not represented by an art dealer who markets his work and is content with that.

Despite being self-represented, his work is getting noticed. Moonias-Quisses says that he has not been able to finish any personal paintings this year due to the volume and time spent on commissioned artwork. With glowing reviews on his Etsy page, it doesn’t appear that this predicament will change anytime soon.

Discover the beautiful traditional Woodland Art of Rufus Moonias-Quisses by visiting his Shopify page Rufus Moonias Quisses Art

Anyone interested in commissioning a work of art by Rufus Moonias-Quisses can contact him via his Facebook page, Rufus Moonias Quisses Art.

ABOVE: The Creation Story, 31.5” x 47”, acrylics on canvas. RIGHT: Growth, 18” x 24”, acrylics on canvas.