Born on Temagami Reserve in Ontario in 1944. Benjamin Chee Chee largely taught himself to paint and draw. His father died when he was two months old and his mother was absent for most of his life. Benjamin spent his life looking for his mother hoping to be reunited with her. It is believed this life ambition fueled his desire to succeed as an artist. He met her in the last year of his life.
Benjamin was a unique Ojibwa artist. Unlike other young Woodlands artists he chose to work with the negative space and created beautiful and powerful art with a few simple curved lines against a white background. Less is more.
It is unfortunate his life was so short. After only four years of national prominence he hung himself in an Ottawa jail cell. He was only 32.
“On March 11, 1977 Chee Chee delivered the 18 paintings he had promised his agent, a collection now known as the Black Geese Portfolio. He then went to Jimmy’s Restaurant on Bank Street, a tavern he frequented. Police were called to find a window had been broken and Chee Chee “boisterous and intoxicated.” He was placed under arrest and secured at 6.50 P.M. in police cell no. 10, which was a bare cell for uncooperative prisoners. Mintues later Chee Chee was found hanging from the bars of his cell. He had hung himself with a noose fashioned from his shirt. He died in hospital three days later.” – excerpt from Chee Chee A Study of Aboriginal Suicide written by Al Evans, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press 2004.