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Painter, performer brings tale of late artist Thomson to Flin Flon stage

A tale of treachery, theories and paint - lots and lots of paint - will come to Flin Flon this weekend.
Stock image of paintbrushes on a palette.

A tale of treachery, theories and paint - lots and lots of paint - will come to Flin Flon this weekend.

The R.H. Channing Auditorium will play host to Assassinating Thomson, a one-man show organized by the Flin Flon Arts Council and the Manitoba Theatre Centre, on Feb. 4. Tickets to the show can be purchased at the Uptown Emporium or through the arts council website at

The show is the brainchild of artist Bruce Horak, a painter and performer who combined his passions into the one-man show. Horak spends the show painting a portrait of the audience while regaling attendees with tales from Canadian art history, most notably painter Tom Thomson.

“I've always been a visual artist, ever since I was quite young, but I gave it up in high school and kind of went down the acting stream, as it were,” Horak said in an interview with The Reminder.

“I created a number of one-person shows and this just seemed kind of ripe for the plucking. I got back into painting and I learned the story of Tom Thomson.”

One of the country’s most celebrated painters, Thomson died in 1917 in what has been officially described as an accidental death after drowning in a canoe accident. Thomson’s past as an accomplished paddler and experienced outdoorsman have caused some people to cast suspicion on that story, even postulating that the painter may have been murdered.

As is mentioned in the title of the show, Horak discusses those theories during the production, along with the works and histories of the artists he helped influence - in particular, the Group of Seven, a septet of landscape painters who drew heavily from Canada’s wilderness for inspiration.

Horak was drawn to Thomson due to what he saw as coincidences between his life and Thomson’s. They share a birthday, moved to Toronto and got into painting in earnest around the same ages. In addition, a man listed as a possible suspect in Thomson’s death, lodge owner Shannon Fraser, shares a name with Horak’s high school girlfriend.

“I thought, ‘That’s too rich not to pursue.’ That was really the birth of the show,” he said.

Horak himself is a long-time painter, though his process is different from most other artists. That difference is due to necessity. As a child, Horak was diagnosed with bilateral retinal blastoma, a rare cancer that affected both of his eyes. Horak was treated for it and survived, but at the cost of losing most of his vision - he’s lived with what he describes as about nine per cent of his eyesight ever since. That impediment has not stopped Horak from his art - he says in his paintings, he sees outlines first and tries to work from there.

“I just kind of learned to fake being sighted - that's the way I put it anyway. I just figured out lots of tips and tricks on how to get away with it,” he said.

“As I got back into painting, I had a mentor who said, ‘You really just need to learn to paint the way that you see, instead of trying to figure out how to look like a fully sighted painter.' In the painting of the audience portrait, I’m incorporating my very limited vision into the painting.”

Horak started performing the show on the Fringe festival circuit in 2013 and has expanded it since, adding more information and more theories, taking the show from a one-act to a two-act performance - “which is great, because it gives me more time to paint,” Horak said. The paintings are auctioned off for charitable causes post-show - proceeds are donated to Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Horak said that attendees should be prepared for a story with a few laughs and some interesting art.

“It’s like a conversation, really - it’s like having your portrait painted.”

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