I started carving at the age of 15. Early on, I had a few teachers to guide me. But it wasn’t until I began to study the old pieces of my ancestors, paying close attention to the Ts’msyen style, that I came into my own. While I have been viewed by many colleagues as a contemporary artist in my field, I consider myself a traditional artist following the old Ts'msyen ways.
But because my art is an expression not only of my heritage but also of my experiences, I have referenced pop culture from my childhood in some of my pieces. In addition, I have traveled to many countries around the world, and I have found a great deal of inspiration from the artistic traditions I encountered.
However, I believe that inspiration and artistic talent can only take you so far without something else that drives you to stay passionate and evolve artistically. When I first started out, it was fear that drove me. I spent the majority of my time trying to improve, trying to overcome my fear of not knowing my place in the art world. Frustration followed. I was frustrated that my potential wasn't obvious to everyone and I felt that I wasn't as good as my artistic contemporaries.
These days it's humility. I realize that creating art is not a race, that there will always be something else to learn, and that I can also teach others. Humility has rekindled my artistic passion as of late, and I've become driven to focus more on giving back to my people, sharing and passing on the knowledge that has been gifted to me over the years. Above all, I want to be remembered as a dedicated Ts'msyen artist.
Phil Gray is a Ts'msyen carver of Ts'msyen (Tsimshian) and Cree First Nations descent living in Vancouver.