Arthur Shilling was born April 19, 1941, on the Rama Reserve near Orillia, Ontario, into a family of 13 children. He rejected traditional Native Indian art forms and 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. Shilling is generally regarded as Canada’s most famous Native Artist.
The first solo exhibition of his paintings took place in Ottawa in 1967 when he was only 26 years old. 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.
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. In 1984 he was obliged to undergo further heart surgery. During the spring of 1985, ignoring medical warnings, he traveled to 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.