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 have shown his work and exhibitions have also taken place in New York City and as far away as Brazil. His paintings are in the permanent collections of The McMichael Canadian Collection, The National Museum of Civilization, The Royal Ontario Museum and The Canadian Embassy Collection in Washington, D.C. He was the subject of the National Film Board’s prize-winning documentary called 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 Island.
In 1984 he was obliged to undergo further heart surgery. During the spring of 1985, ignoring medical warnings, he travelled 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 4, 1986.
“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 1988 marked the first Arthur Shilling estate exhibition with Beckett, celebrating the artist’s life and work. We are fortunate to have been involved with the Shillings and are honoured to carry on the tradition and dedication to this great Canadian artist’s work.” Thomas Beckett Junior, Beckett Fine Art
“His pride in being an artist is remarkable; his commitment to excellence was profound. Arthur Shilling died much too young, but what a heritage he left behind. He will be an inspiration to many Indian and non-Indian artists in years to come. Canada and the native peoples of Canada will be better off because Arthur Shilling was with us even for such a brief period of time.” Jean Chretien, February 1986
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario
McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario
Dofasco Inc., Hamilton, Ontario
Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec
Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C., USA
DuPont Canada Inc., Toronto
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
St Michael's Hospital, Toronto
Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Ottawa
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario
Imperial Oil, Toronto
Manulife Financial, Toronto
New School of Art
Ontario College of Art, Toronto
"The Beauty of My People", The Life, Work and Times of Arthur Shilling, National Film Board
"Faces of Small Places"
"The Great Indian Canvas", National Film Board, Canada
"The New Canadians", National Film Board, Canada
2000 “Perpetual Bundle”, Indian Art Collection, Indian and Northern Affairs, Ottawa
2000 “Mutual Regard”, Arthur Shilling & David General, Beckett Fine Art, Toronto
1993 "Welcome Canada", Budapest
1990 "Two Native Masters-Arthur Shilling & Joseph Jacobs", Beckett Gallery, Hamilton
1986,85,82,81,80,79,78,77,76,74 Woodland Indian Cultural Centre, Brantford, Ontario
1983 "Contemporary Indian Art at Rideau Hall, Ottawa
1982 Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay
1979 McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario
1979 "Kinder Des Nanabush", McMichael Collection for the Museum Fur Volkerkunde, Hamburg, Germany
1977 Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario
1977 Museum of Sao Paulo, Brazil
Canada House, London, England and Germany
Contemporary Native Art of Canada-travelling exhibition including R.O.M.
1974,76,82,85,86 Woodland Indian Cultural Centre, Brantford, Ontario
1974,78 Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
1967 Indian Hall of Fame, CNE, Toronto
"The Ojibway Dream", by Arthur Shilling, Tundra Books
"We are The Music Makers", by Court Stone, Castenchel Ed.
2003, 1999 Beckett Fine Art Ltd., Toronto, Ontario
1990 Columbus Centre, Toronto
1997,94,92,90 Roberts Gallery, Toronto
1986 Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario
1986,83,81,80,79 Beckett Gallery, Hamilton, Ontario
1981,80 Sundance Gallery, Calgary, Alberta
1978 Nancy Poole's Studio, Toronto
1970 McIntosh Gallery, London, Ontario
1967 Tom Thomson Gallery, Owen Sound, Ontario
1966 Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, Kitchener, Ontario
1963,63,67 Orillia Public Library, Orillia, Ontario