“Following Success” by Roy Thomas

By: Waddington's Staff

Lot 35 – Roy Thomas (1929-2004), Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), FOLLOWING SUCCESS. Acrylic on canvas; signed lower right. 48 x 94 in — 127 x 246.4 cm. Estimate $20,000-$26,000

“I was born an Anishnabe artist. I am a painter in the Ojibway Woodland style. This style uses symbolisms and imagery inspired by the pictographs that I saw as a child. The spirits of the art and my elders have taught me what to paint through visions. These visions compliment the strengths, values and traditions of my people, my family, my community and my nation. Through my artwork, I paint these visions of teachings so that they can be shared with others.”[1]

Best known for his paintings of totemic animals, Thomas’ work is exemplified by balanced compositions and vivid colours. A leading member of the Woodland School, Thomas, like Norval Morrisseau and other members of the PNIAI who preceded him, helped move conversations about Indigenous art into the mainstream. Simultaneously, Thomas was dedicated to mentoring subsequent generations of contemporary Anishinaabe artists in the complex visual language of their people. James Stevens, who collaborated with Thomas on his biography, The Spirit of Ahnishnabae Art, explains: “I think his contribution really was that his art helped two cultures gain a further understanding of themselves. He helped people from western society understand the values and philosophy on the aboriginal side.”[2]

Dr. Elizabeth McLuhan, who curated Vision Circle: The Art of Roy Thomas, a Retrospective Exhibition, at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, writes that Following Success is an expression of the futility of being driven by other measures of success at the expense of one’s true Ahnisnabae self. It is a powerful statement of hard-won self-knowledge. The piece has a three-part structure. On the left is a white Thunderbird astride a green serpent that is perched on a turtle. Above them is an owl and the Great Spirit. In the centre, the Earth-toned second figure looks right. A broken or jagged orb presides, the orb is split between competing goals. On the right, a blue Thunderbird soars to depart from this life, dominated too much by ambition. Roy’s notes on Following Success observe that:

In the eyes of our Great Spirit honest success is gained by keeping our mind, body and spirit clean. Clean from drugs and alcohol. This is illustrated by the three birds. Each bird represents the mind, body and spirit. The two fish represent the water, to be clean like the water.[3]

Following Success epitomizes the artist’s use of densely clustered and often overlapping ring-like compositions of figures depicting the Anishinaabe cosmology. In the work, Henry emphasizes the interconnection between the upper, middle, and lower realms of being. Continuity of form and the artist’s implementation of colour in the work imply relations between animals and people occupying the strata of these worlds. The painting is particularly notable both for its monumental scale and the artist’s all-over use of the canvas.

His paintings have been exhibited at museums including the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, ON), the Canadian Museum of History (Gatineau, QC) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, ON); Thomas was also the subject of a major travelling retrospective organised by the Thunder Bay Art Gallery (Thunder Bay, ON), Vision Circle: The Art of Roy Thomas.

About the auction

Held online from May 24-29, 2024, our spring auction of Canadian and International Fine Art brings together exceptional work from around the world. This auction features celebrated Canadian artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff, A.Y. Jackson, P.C. Sheppard, A.J. Casson, Bertram Booker, Alexandra Luke, Jean Paul Lemieux and Yves Gaucher as well as important First Nations artists Norval Morrisseau, Roy Thomas and Alex Janvier. International highlights include work by Jules Olitski, Karel Appel, Kwon Young-Woo, Norman Bluhm, Józef Bakoś, Léon Lhermitte and Montague Dawson.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

 Thursday, May 23 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Friday, May 24 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Saturday, May 25 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Sunday, May 26 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Monday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, May 28 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Or by appointment.

Please contact us to find out more.

[1] Roy Thomas. Ojibwa native artist. Native Art in Canada. https://www.native-art-in-canada.com/roy-thomas.html
[2] Influential aboriginal artist Roy Thomas dies at 54; mentored younger artists, The Canadian Press, 19 November 2004.
[3] Elizabeth McLuhan, Roy Thomas, and Joseph Boyden. Vision Circle : the Art of Roy Thomas : a Retrospective. (Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 2012), 40.

Related News

Start Collecting

Everything you need to know to get you started bidding in our auctions at Waddington’s.

Learn More

How to Sell

Find out why selecting Waddington’s is the right choice for consigning your works of art, wine or specialty items.

Learn More

Become a Member

Sign up for your Waddington’s account to start bidding, manage your invoices, and track items you're interested in.

Sign Up