“Anything is possible, just stick to it. Be your own motivation. Always want to change for the better.” These are the words of Adrian Auger, an artist who was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and currently attends OCAD University for Indigenous Visual Culture. A mature student, it’s his first year and he’s getting back into the swing of things after being out of school for some time.
Growing up, Auger was in the foster care system as a teen and moved to Markham for a few years. Returning to Toronto, his life was unstable and he couchsurfed while homeless. “It was a very confusing time but I managed to prosper through it. I always had goals in mind and continued to work on them and strive as much as I could,” he recalls.
His camp journals from his childhood talked about wanting to become a tattoo artist and it’s a goal he stuck with. He started off with home equipment, practicing on friends but he wanted to professionalize and became an apprentice. He became a tattoo apprentice in 2016 and worked hard until he could open up his own studio space. The pandemic interrupted his plans and he’s looking for new studio space while going to school and tattooing.
As an apprentice, he was inspired by other artists and was immersed in a learning experience. His mentor is from Ecuador and they travelled there for a convention. Having art training is something he finds helpful in his tattoo craft. “Knowing the rules of art, and proportions, values and design, it's good to have that background, instead of just jumping into it and thinking you know everything,” he shares.
He went back to school after meeting a former student who encouraged him to check out OCAD. She persisted and shared her story of going to school as a mature student who moved onto graduate studies. “It's never too late to get knowledge and you’re never too old to learn,” he smiles. He’s finding his second semester of studies more intuitive and enjoying learning more. To get in, he needed to do an English assessment but he didn’t need transcripts. At the Indigenous Center Student Center, a student success coordinator helped him with the application process.
In high school, he went to an alternative school which he preferred given how much independence he was afforded there. He graduated even though at the time he was in survival mode, living day to day. He has two younger brothers and an older sister and one of his brothers shares his love of art. His brother does photography, drawing and painting, having been steered by Auger’s influence. Auger has found as far as his own art journey that with more stability and housing security, he’s able to focus on his craft and be more productive.
His advice for students considering leaving their home communities to pursue school and work is practical. “Make sure your head is in the right space. Mental health is a really big issue to address. It’s very important to be able to have healthy thoughts and a healthy mind and you will be able to prosper and be more productive,” he urges. He didn’t address it until later and he feels with early intervention he could be further along in his career.
He remembers how stubborn he was and resistant to advice and hopes youth can learn from where he went wrong. “You need to snap out of it and learn from your elders and people around you and positive influences. Try to surround yourself with positive influences instead of like negative influences, because that could be detrimental to your success. At the end of the day, no one else is gonna look out for you the way you look out for you so you have to come first,” he continues.
To keep doing what he does, Auger is inspired by not wanting to be a statistic, wanting to avoid jail or death. “I have something to prove and I want to make the change, not for myself, but also my family because like my family comes from poverty. I want it to be me where it ends and heal that trauma and then build that generational wealth and success and have pride in our family name,” he shares.
Recently, Auger received a grant from the City of Toronto to organize art exhibits for indigenous Indigenous youth because he never had that space to go through his experiences when he was growing up. He would like to develop a non profit or organization to continue that work to build hope for Indigenous youth with their participation.
The first show will include up to ten artists at the Native Canadian Center of Toronto. “I feel it's really segregated in Toronto. I just want to bring everybody together because we're stronger in numbers. The more of us there are, the more powerful we'll be,” he muses aloud, thinking of the community he wants to create where youth will be able to find resources, employment, financial literacy and mental health support. Auger wants to start with art, the thing he knows best.
To give back, Adrian Auger does workshops with child and family services alongside his brother. They offer photography workshops, calligraphy and lettering workshops. They have expertise and experience to share and a message of hope: “Anything is possible just stick to it. Be your own motivation. Always want to change for the better.” He’s back to school, learning more and connected in community, sharing more, too.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.