Abstract painting

For Gwich’in artist Colleen Firmin Thomas, abstract painting helps “transform the world”

Colleen Firmin Thomas (Photo by Sarah Lewis Photography)

Gwich’in artist Colleen Firmin Thomas is from Fort Yukon and is known for her abstract paintings.


In his piece, “Boundaries as Battlelines”, Thomas uses a brush to create vertical stacks of gray and brown. In the grey, porcupine quills and moose fur are placed to delineate and mark a boundary between layers of earth-colored streaks.

“For me, painting is a way of dealing with the world,” she said. “I tell people, it’s kind of like therapy.”

Borders as battle lines (Photo courtesy of Colleen Firmin Thomas)

Where the gray is more prominent, porcupine quills and moose fur sit toward the horizon, acting as a boundary with the mountainous void in between.

Thomas has been creating works of art since childhood. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Fairbanks and has presented her work in shows ever since.

“My work is mainly inspired by nature, language and culture,” she said.

Her work blends traditional painting methods with porcupine quills, fur and feathers to showcase different complexities of nature, the life around her and her own life experiences.

“In a lot of my paintings, they have little circle shapes, or look like hoops or something,” she said. “To me, these represent traps, as in entrapment, and represent things that can catch up with you – or a warning to beware of your surroundings. Even just a reminder that, you know, death is near.

In June, the Anchorage Museum chose Thomas as Virtual Artist-in-Residence of the Month. His next show will be August 6-31 at the Well Street Art Company in Fairbanks.

To see Thomas’ art online, go to colleenfirminthomas.com.