For Gwich’in artist Colleen Firmin Thomas, abstract painting helps ‘to process 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 her piece, “Boundaries as Battlelines,” Thomas uses a brush to make vertical stacks of gray and brown. In the gray, porcupine quills and moose fur are placed in a way to demark and mark a boundary between the layers of earthen-colored streaks.

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

Boundaries as Battlelines (Photo courtesy Colleen Firmin Thomas)

Where gray is more prominent, porcupine quills and moose fur is laid toward the horizon acting like a boundary to the mountain-looking void in between.

Thomas has been creating artwork since childhood. She received her bachelor’s in fine arts at the University of Fairbanks and has been showcasing her work in shows since then.

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

Her work intertwines traditional painting methods with porcupine quills, fur and feathers to showcase different intricacies in 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, those represent snares, like in trapping, and represent things that can catch you up — or a warning to beware of what’s around you. Even just a reminder that, you know, death is close by.”

In June, the Anchorage Museum selected Thomas to be its virtual artist-in-residence of the month. Her next show will be from Aug. 6 through Aug. 31 at Well Street Art Company in Fairbanks.

To see Thomas’s art online, go to

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