Alan Syliboy

This is one artist who will tell and show us how Petroglyphs became Pixels.

Alan Syliboy was born and raised in Truro, Nova Scotia. Living in the Millbrook First Nations Mi’kmaq community, he is an artist, an author, a filmmaker and a musician. 

He has painted since childhood, often in secret, because of the strict policies of church and schools against indigenous people.

Artist profile: Bear Claw Gallery

“In the beginning, I found painting painful and difficult because I was unsure of my own identity. As my exploration of painting and my understanding of Mi’kmaq spiritualism expanded, my confidence and ability grew with it. Since my family is where I feel the most centred, everything else is exterior. I feel that I have gained the inner strength to conceptualize my spiritualism. Simplicity of line and colour and uncomplicated symbolism now gives my work a cleanness and strength. From this point of beginning, I incorporate new themes and mediums to ensure my artistic progression. Elements of Mi’kmaq petroglyph records found throughout Nova Scotia provide some inspiration for the developing of my general theme, which is my expression of the pride and understanding attached to our cultural heritage. Most of my subjects deal with family, searching, struggle, and strength. All these things are part of my art, and my art gives me strength for my continuing spiritual quest.” 

His Work

In 1971, Alan began his private study with influential Maliseet artist and activist Shirley Bear who is an Order of Canada recipient.

Shirley had recruited Alan and three other promising artists to join her at her home in New Hampshire where they honed their painting skills under a variety of artists. However, more importantly, she would drop Alan off at a lake and say, `start painting’. This indigenous way would shape and change Alan’s approach to his art.

Shirley suggested studying the petroglyphs surrounding their home in the Maritimes. These ancient works of art would inspire Alan to create new works based on the stories written in stone and compiled by George Creed, a postmaster in the mid-1800s.. George Creed had spent a lifetime recording many of the petroglyphs that are now underwater in a book titled, George Creed Tracing Tradition.

Four years later Alan decided to further his education in the art world and joined the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. ( he returned 25 years later to sit on their board).

After almost a twenty-year hiatus to raise his family, George returned and expanded his art to include film, sculpture, and music.

Since then Alan has made huge strides towards success as an artist. He created a limited edition Butterfly gold coin for the Canadian Mint in 1999 it was limited to 25,000 copies, which sold out. In 2002, he received the Queens Golden Jubilee Medal. The year after that Alan was the featured artist and Aboriginal consultant for the production `Drum’ for CBC television. He was also involved with Muiniskw, a CBC animation special that included his artwork. Within that same year, he also became a juror for the Canada Council for the Arts!

Alan has travelled worldwide, graciously sharing his gifts with us all. He travelled to France multiple times throughout his career participating in shows and trade missions. He took part in a trade mission to Japan headed by the Department of External Affairs of Canada along with several other Nova Scotian companies joined him. He obtained an agent and was involved with the exportation of his works. He also took part in Art demonstrations at Ludwig Beck store in Munich, Germany.

In 2007 Alan took part in creating illustrations for the novel “The Stone Canoe: Two Lost Mi’kmaq tales,” which inspired him to continue his use of the Little Thunder character throughout his works.

His interest in Little Thunder led to more books in collaboration with Shirley Bear.

 His interest in bridging cultures led to co-writing songs for his band, `The Thundermakers’. Alan, a lifelong musician and traditional singer has recorded many albums combing Mi’kmaq words and songs with contemporary music. 

A link to his videos is on his personal site. Many of his topics revolve around family and traditions as well as social comments on the plight of Indigenous people.

His work centers on finding the small details in art and creation to link indigenous people as well as include non-indigenous utilizing contemporized materials and mediums.

The Thundermaker (2013) Multi-media installation, by Alan Syliboy. Nominator: David Diviney

The petroglyphs of Nova Scotia inspired the making of, `The Thundermaker’ that is based around the recently discovered and translated Mi’kmaq legend, “The Stone Canoe,” in which the Thundermaker story is embedded. The installation begins with a circle of text panels illustrated with Syliboy’s drawings and culminates with a tipi containing a projected animation film of the story. Nova Scotia Community College Digital Animation students executed the animation under the artist’s supervision. The artist’s work People of the Dawn was a 2010 Masterworks Finalist.

In 2009, Alan collaborated with Mohawk filmmaker, Nance Ackerman to create the animation, “Little Thunder” for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which presented the Little Thunder character in motion using Alan’s interesting and beautiful style. The animation featured the true magnificence of his artwork and solidified its incredible potential. The animation subsequently was included in a travelling show called “Canada’s best” which travelled nationally and internationally. It has been in 40 different festivals around the world and voted Best Animation in Montreal in 2011.

Alan made huge contributions to the 2010 Olympics. He was the lead artist of a group sculpture called “Keepers of the Eastern Door.” He also painted twelve breathtaking 4’x8′ panels entitled “People of the Dawn” which was later shortlisted for the Lieutenant Governor’s Masterworks Art Award.

​Alan also has much experience curating different art shows. In 2009, he curated a showcase of New Brunswick artists at the Lord Beaverbrook Art Gallery, where one of his own large murals hung next to a painting done by the legendary Salvador Dali.

As Alan’s accomplishments continue on, he had an opportunity to present Queen Elizabeth II with a portrait of Grand Chief Membertou. In the same year, he was the recipient of a Canada Council grant for his work in “Brainstorm,” a collaboration he did with Nancy Ackerman and Dr. Ivar Mendez.

In 2017, he received an Honourary Degree from St. Francis Xavier University as the fifth Coady Chair in Social Justice to “prompt important conversations, art and study related to Indigenous history, cultural revitalization, reconciliation, and the evolution of Mi’kmaq art as forms of expression.”