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A celebrity take on northern wildlife

Hayley Thiesen/TSUN displays animal portraits at Arts Underground
Hayley Thiesen/TSUN poses with one of the works in her exhibit, Northern Animals, at Arts Underground in Whitehorse. (Submitted)

Inside the Edge Gallery at Arts Underground on Main Street, visitors will find some familiar Yukon creatures that may have a few things in common with a few of their favourite celebrities.

Hayley Thiesen/TSUN’s Northern Animals exhibit opened Feb. 5 and will be displayed there until Feb. 27.

The exhibit features animal portraits aimed at capturing the animal’s unique spirit and personality.

“(Thiesen/TSUN) then attempts to pair each portrait with a well-known celebrity, athlete, or musician who she believes share similar attributes. Hayley is fascinated by the connections, and affectations viewers make to the portrait of an animal when it has a familiar name,” it’s noted in the Facebook event listing on the Arts Underground page.

It’s a style Thiesen/TSUN has been painting in since 2018 and for the artist it’s always fun to hear viewers’ reaction to the celebrity a portrait is paired with, she said in a Feb. 9 interview.

A brown bear named after singer Britney Spears, a musk ox bearing the name of actor Gordon Tootoosis who died in 2011, and a large grizzly named after another actor — Sam Barker — are a few of the critters to be found included in the exhibit.

Asked what she hopes gallery visitors get out of the exhibit, Thiesen/TSUN put it simply: “I hope they like it.”

She added the celebrity names that go with the portrait often elicit a good laugh and she’d like that for those who drop by the gallery to take in her work.

All of the portraits feature the brilliant turquoise eyes, highlighted with gold that have become Thiesen/TSUN’s trademark.

Thiesen/TSUN’s style of animal portraits started with a rabbit she was painting. Nearly finished, she knew the image needed something else.

“What would really pop,” she recalled thinking to herself.

It was then that the turquoise and gold came to mind for the eyes, which were then added to the rabbit. Since then, it’s become part of all her animal portraits.

While Thiesen/TSUN has developed her style of animal portraits over the last three years, artwork has been a major part of her life since her childhood growing up outside Kamloops, B.C.

“When I was a kid I was drawing, drawing, drawing all the time,” she said.

She enjoyed drawing so much that when painting was added to her school’s art curriculum she found it frustrating, and felt like she wouldn’t be good at it.

And that led to an obsession to improve. She continued to work on it, eventually coming to actually enjoy the medium.

At Thompson River University she earned her undergraduate degree, studying visual arts and literature before going on to earn her teaching credentials at the University of Victoria where she also took some art courses.

As her work as a teacher saw her move throughout B.C. as well as to Seoul, South Korea, and Dalian, China, she continued to create artwork. Travelling gave her the opportunity to experience a variety of art as well as taking in the culture of areas she visited.

Her website features a wide array of the artwork she’s produced throughout her career featuring floral paintings, celebrity portraits as well as The Vault, as it’s been labeled, which showcases “some oldies, but goodies” and a variety of styles. Animal portraits make up the largest part of her collection of work.

Eventually, she ended up moving to the Yukon. She now works at F.H. Collins Secondary School, teaching art while also continuing to create her own pieces.

For the most part, much of Thiesen/TSUN’s artwork has been for her own enjoyment with displays of her work being limited to her website and for friends and acquaintances. She has sold some pieces over the years.

She hadn’t given a lot of thought to displaying her work in a gallery until a few friends made the suggestion.

“It had never occurred to me,” she said. “Art is so personal.”

After giving the suggestion some thought, she decided to apply for her pieces to be shown in Arts Underground and is pleased that they’re now on display, hoping Yukoners will enjoy the show.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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