Derek Harper was born in Sioux Lookout in 1977 and grew up on his grandfather’s trap line near Keewaywin First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. His artwork is inspired by stories, beliefs and superstitions told to him by his grandparents. “My grandmother and grandfather answered all my questions about how birds got their colours and where the animals came from,” Harper says.
His artistic journey began as a teenager when asthma kept him indoors during the cold winter months so, he amused himself by sketching with a set of pencil crayons. Harper’s father-in-law, Lloyd Kakepetum soon recognized his talent and introduced him to paints. Harper sold his first paintings in Toronto when he was 19 years old and his artwork has since been displayed in galleries from Thunder Bay to France, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Harper currently divides his time between Thunder Bay and the Oji-Cree community of Keewaywin, where he remains connected to his cultural traditions, hunting to provide food for his family. “When I harvest a moose, I say my respects and then when I get home, I paint it, to give it even more respect,” he says. “It’s my way of saying thanks, even for the ducks and geese. It’s what I was taught by my grandparents.” Harper works seasonally as a heavy equipment operator helping to maintain the winter roads that provide access to remote Northern First Nations. He dreams of a time when he can devote all of his attention to painting. “When I’m at work, I think all the time about my art,” he says.
Harper’s latest works are inspired by his grandfather, who was a shaman. “I’m starting to paint the things he did to heal people or help people. My uncles tell me those stories.”
Harper is a proud husband, father and grandfather.
– biography supplied by the artist