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Andy Warhol or Marcus Gosse? Combining pop art and Mi'kmaw tradition

Mi'kmaw artist Marcus Gosse has been creating a collection of art called What If Andy Warhol Were Mi'kmaq? since 2009. He uses his pop art style to display images of traditional Indigenous art and culture.

The best art 'has meaning and it captures our time,' says Mi'kmaw artist Marcus Gosse

A painting broken into four quadrants, each with a soup can that reads "Mi'kmaq Condensed Soup" on the front.
Marcus Gosse has been creating a collection called What If Andy Warhol Were Mi'kmaq?, which combines the style of the pop art icon with traditional Indigenous art. (Marcus Gosse/Facebook)

A Mi'kmaw artist is blending traditional Newfoundland and Labrador culture with the iconic work of Andy Warhol — and his collection of paintings has been seen around the globe. 

The collection started in 2009 when Marcus Gosse watched a PBS documentary about Warhol.

Gosse was familiar only with Warhol's most popular works. But that documentary sparked an interest and a curiosity, and left him wondering how he could combine the traditional and cultural aspects of his own art with Warhol's vibrant style.

The answer was Campbell's Soup Cans, a Warhol series that depicts mundane and domestic soup cans divided into a mosaic of colourful quadrants. 

"I thought, why don't I create a pop art series or a soup can series [and] instead of saying Campbell's, put Mi'kmaw soup or Mi'kmaw moose soup or Mi'kmaw caribou soup," Gosse said. 

"I was inspired," he continued. "I created a birch bark painting called Mi'kmaq Moose Soup … and then I also created a canvas that was called Mi'kmaq Moose Soup. And then I started the collection from there." 

And it's not a spoof, Gosse explained.

"I'm actually trying to catch the viewer's attention and then kind of put Mi'kmaw conservation principles into it," he said. 

Since then, Gosse has used this pop art style throughout a lot of his work. He's painted soup cans on birch and canvas, created sculptures, and transformed depictions of Coca-Cola to Coastal-Cola. 

But this soup can series — called What If Andy Warhol Were Mi'kmaq? — allows him to intertwine style and culture.

Family ties

"My grandmother had a pantry," he said. "She had everything, all canned and bottled like moose and, you know, caribou and rhubarb relish and all that. My grandmother is Mi'kmaw, and she preserved everything and she took only what she needed from the land." 

Gosse said he learned a lot watching his grandmother when he was growing up. 

Six painted soup cans, two with a fish tail sticking out, depict different kinds of soup - salmon, cod, trout, and halibut.
Goose says he learned a lot about living off the land and tradition from his grandmother, who bottled and canned everything in her pantry. (Marcus Gosse/Facebook)

He thought the soup cans would be a perfect medium to exemplify those cultural values. 

"The parody is just to kind of catch your attention. Once they catch the attention, I really want to help educate," he said. 

Since its inception in 2009, work from the What If Andy Warhol Were Mi'kmaq? collection has traveled all over the world. It's been featured in galleries from Halifax to New York and Miami to Germany — and at the Confederation Building in St. John's. 

Goose said working on the art collection for over a decade has taught him how to take traditional art created by his ancestors and turn it into modern art for contemporary audiences. 

"I'm trying to … capture my time not only through traditional art, but also through modern contemporary art as well, and taking those ancient Mi'kmaw patterns and putting them into modern day scenery and modern day items such as the soup cans," he said.

"To me, great art … the greatest art tells a story. It has meaning and it captures our time." 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Antle

Journalist

Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

With files from Weekend AM

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