Artist, illustrator and poet Don Ense has pursued extensive artistic studies that ultimately helped him develop his own unique style. Born in 1953 in M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ense studied at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation’s art program, Cambrian College in Sudbury, and the Three Schools in Toronto. He also attended the Manitou Arts Foundation summer school on Manitoulin Island, organized by artists Daphne Odjig and Carl Ray. Ense went on to illustrate children’s books, among them Giving: Ojibwa Stories and Legends from the Children of Curve Lake (1985) and Dancing Feathers (1985).
Working primarily in acrylics, Ense developed a highly individualized painting method. Drawing from the teachings of Anishnawbae, he produces genre paintings, ones that are often biographical, reflecting his family life and childhood memories. Untitled [Farmhouse] features large flat areas of colour, located within straight black lines, to define the form of the farmhouse, the covered porch, the trees on both sides of the residence, and the smaller buildings off to the left and right side. Small vertical dashes of black suggest individual blades within the field of blue-green grass in the foreground. A line of silhouetted trees run along the horizon line in the background. Cumulatively, these simplified forms come together depicting a serene image of daily life, one dominated by cool colours and lush vegetation, hinting at the ending of the summer season. According to Mary E. Southcott, Ense’s two-dimensional forms reference the stylistic qualities of pictographs or rock paintings.
Ense’s representations of activities throughout all seasons have proven to appeal to many around the world, be they in art gallery exhibitions or in published books. He has had solo exhibitions across Canada, and his art has been featured in international shows.
Originally published in The Walleye – SEP 2018
By Andrea Terry, Acting Curator, Thunder Bay Art Gallery