Beaverbrook Art Gallery to Unveil Willie O’Ree Portrait

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Tim Okamura’s portrait of Willie O’Ree will be unveiled at a public event January 18 at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery has announced a very special event that will honour a New Brunswick hockey icon. 

A monumental portrait of Willie O’Ree has been presented to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery by a generous anonymous donor. Measuring five feet by five feet, the painting shows an older O’Ree proudly wearing his Boston Bruins jersey, while he holds a hockey stick and sports his Hockey Hall of Fame ring. The portrait was featured as the cover image of O’Ree’s recent  autobiography Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player as well as the poster image of his recent film documentary. 

The public unveiling will take place at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery on January 18 at 6:30 p.m., which is the 65th anniversary of Willie O’Ree’s first NHL game. On that day in 1958, he made history as the first Black player in the NHL, suiting up for the Boston Bruins as they played the Montreal Canadiens. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, and in 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden announced O’Ree will be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.” 

The portrait artist is Tim Okamura, a contemporary painter who investigates identity, the urban environment, metaphor, and cultural iconography. Born in Edmonton, Okamura earned a BFA with Distinction at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary before moving to New York  City to attend the School of Visual Arts in 1991. After graduating with an MFA in 1993, Okamura moved to Brooklyn, where he continues to live and work. 

Okamura is known for his depiction of BIPOC subjects in urban settings, and for his combination of graffiti and realism. His work has been featured in several major motion pictures and in London’s National Portrait Gallery. Okamura was one of several artists to be shortlisted in 2006 for a proposed portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. He received an invitation to The White House in 2015 to honour artists whose work addresses issues of social justice, where he received a letter of commendation from then Vice President Joe Biden.

All members of the public are welcome to this free unveiling event at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, January 18 at 6:30 p.m. The artist, Tim Okamura, will be present, and Willie O’Ree plans on attending virtually from his home in California, addressing the gathering live via zoom.

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