Arthur Shilling was born April 19, 1941, on the Rama Reserve near Orillia, Ontario, into a family of 13 children.
He moved to Toronto in his late teens, and although he received a
scholarship to attend art school, he went to few classes, preferring to
find his own way. That way meant rejecting traditional Native Indian
art forms, the illustration of legends and the use of animal symbolism,
while at the same time exploring the Native experience in the life
around him, particularly in the faces of his people. He developed a
distinctive expressionist style using bold strokes of colour to set off
the quiet questioning or proud defiance in the faces of his subjects.
The first solo exhibition of his paintings took place in Ottawa in 1967 when he was only 26 years old.
Since then numerous galleries across Canada and internationally have
shown his work including exhibitions at The Museum of San Paulo, Brazil
and Kinder Des Nanabush, Hamburg, Germany. His paintings are in the
permanent collections of The Art Gallery of Ontario, The McMichael
Canadian Collection, The Portrait Gallery of Canada, The National
Museum of Civilization, The Royal Ontario Museum, Rideau Hall, Ottawa
and The Canadian Embassy collection in Washington, D.C. He was the
subject of the National Film Board's prize-winning documentary titled,"
The Beauty of My People: The Life, Work and Times of Arthur Shilling."
Fiercely independent and impatient of attempts to classify him, he remained always "his own man".
In the 1970's when the aftereffects of rheumatic fever suffered in
childhood caught up with him, he came out of heart surgery and looked
upon the world around him with new eyes. He returned to Rama to build
an art gallery beside his home where he lived with his wife, Millie,
and sons, Bewabon and Travis. He was also interested in landscapes and
in the summer of 1980 he went west with his family to paint the
prairies and mountains, going as far as the Gulf Islands off Vancouver
In 1984 he was obliged to undergo further heart surgery.
During the spring of 1985, ignoring medical warnings, he traveled to
the Peace River district of northern Alberta and spent several weeks
there teaching on native reserves. Although failing energy made
painting very difficult, he continued to work until his death on March
"Thomas L. Beckett Sr., of Beckett Gallery, enjoyed a long friendship with Arthur and Millie Shilling.
They shared many successful art exhibitions through the years. October
29, 1988 marked the first Arthur Shilling estate exhibition with
Beckett, celebrating the artist's life and work. We are fortunate to
have worked with the Shillings and are honoured to carry on the
tradition and dedication to this great Canadian artist's work." Thomas
G. Beckett, Beckett Fine Art, Toronto, September 2008.