Portraits of La Loche shooting victims a 'gift to the community' says painter

A woman who was originally from La Loche, but now lives in Fort McMurray, asked the artist to do it as a gift from their community.

The paintings of the two brothers now hangs in the home of the family in La Loche

Russell Thomas painted Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, two brothers who died in the La Loche shooting. (Submitted by Russell Thomas)

Russell Thomas, an artist from Fort McMurray, Alta., has painted portraits of all of the victims who died in the La Loche, Sask. shooting.

Four people killed in the northern village Jan. 22. Seven people were also wounded by gunfire at La Loche Community School.

"There's something about painting when people pass," Thomas said, adding the paintings can help the grieving process. 

A woman who was originally from La Loche, but now lives in Fort McMurray, asked Thomas to do it as a gift from their community to the northern Saskatchewan village. The Alberta community is across the provincial border from La Loche.

"I knew I had to do it as a gift to the community and to the families," Thomas said.

Russell Thomas painted Marie Janvier, and Education Assistant who died in the La Loche shooting. (Russell Thomas/Submitted to CBC)

After he painted the two brothers, Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, he received messages from the mother and aunt about how thankful they were to see the paintings.

"There's always a fear, as an artist in these moments, of 'how is the family going to respond?' And I fear sometimes that they won't be in a place to appreciate the interpretation of their lost loved one, but I think everything really resonated," Thomas said. "These are folks going through incredible grief, but yet they still had the grace to reach out and send a message to me." 

Thomas paints in a style he calls wild colour portraiture. He thinks the four photos of the victims are painted in a cohesive way.

"The word transcendent somehow pops into my head," he said. "There's a little bit of a flavour of northern lights in them, which in this part of the world is what we see. It's part of our culture. I get the sense that those four people have transcended in a way."

Russell Thomas painted this portrait of teacher Adam Wood, who was gunned down in the La Loche, Sask., shooting. (Russell Thomas/Submitted to CBC)

Thomas said the response to his paintings have been incredible.

The portraits of the two brothers now hang in the home of the family in La Loche.