First Nations artist shares Tsimshian versions of Pokemon

Learn about this mix of Japanese video game characters and the design work of local First Nations.

Chase Gray had been interested in art since high school, but hadn’t pursued it too seriously until early 2021.

When his hands started causing trouble in crochet, he turned to digital art. Gray, who is Musqueam and Tsimshian, took his ancestral origins and mixed them with his childhood when he was playing Pokemon on a Gameboy he had when he was six.

“I was like shit, I’m just gonna draw a little bit and see where it goes,” said Gray. Vancouver is awesome. “I love Pokémon, have always loved it since I was little.”

“I just wanted to do things that I had never seen before and that I thought were cool,” he adds.

While Pokemon has been a priority, there have been other designs as well. Some, like the Digimon or Studio Ghibli pieces, are also inspired by pop culture. Others, like a train or a space shuttle, are still non-traditional subjects while not coming from pop culture.

“It’s like finding a topic that people my age and everyone else would find relevant and show them from an Indigenous perspective,” says Gray.

He notes that his work is in the Tsimshian tradition (with ovoids and U-shapes), although he is currently learning Salish patterns (with crescents, trigones, and negative space).

Gray has many other designs, including pieces for local pride celebrations and a design used at a Vancouver Canucks game in honor of the discovery of children’s graves on residential school grounds; he’s also working on a new mural in downtown Vancouver. Her favorite recent piece is a circular design with a crow, an eagle and an orca; her favorite Pokémon piece is the chandelier.

Art has also turned into a business opportunity now. The stickers are sold in an Abbotsford store where her sister-in-law, House of Cards works.

“They sell them like hot cakes,” says Gray. “It’s the perfect market.”

It turned out well enough that he calls his purchase of Pokemon Snap a business expense because he has great reference material for Gray’s designs.

He notes that it may be difficult to keep them in stock for now, as the company he works with to print the stickers may have been affected by flood waters in the Fraser Valley (his own home has also been affected by high water).

About Ethel Nester

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