This week’s Incubator artist, Anya Tonkonogy, is installing her work in the Community Gallery today. She’s also sent us lots of extra info about herself and her show!
At a recent Latitude 53 Fundraiser event, I had a conversation with a man working “up North”. We didn’t have this conversation face to face, as this man was still in Fort McMurray at the time of our chat. His friends were in attendance and were sharing his texts with me. Through these texts he informed me that he would like to commission a portrait of himself, in the grand style of ‘old school’ paintings, and that he wanted himself pictured with a wolf and a bottle of vodka as props.
Price didn’t seem to be an object, but time was. Turns out he wanted a mural, painted on the wall of his mobile home and he thought it shouldn’t take too long.
I have not painted this mural yet, but I did get to thinking…
Are there others who work ‘up North’ who would want their portrait painted? And if so, what kind of objects/props would they want to include in these pictures? How would they want to be immortalized? I was starting to form an entire project in my head that revolved around the concepts of identity, industry and the interdependency we all share in Alberta with the ‘bubbling crude’ that comes out of the ground.
My thoughts on this subject were also bubbling, so I thought I would start with simple portraits for now.
The paintings in this Incubator exhibit are studies — a chance to engage with those who work ‘up North’. Through these unsolicited portraits I had a chance to visit remote work sites where every day, 24/7, oil and gas is extracted from the ground by men and women. I have never been to an actual rig, and was humbled to find out that it’s not easy to gain access to these sites. I also visited a training workshop, where tech operators were learning to use specific equipment that pumps oil out of the ground.
I quickly noticed that most people I met seldom let the top of their head show. Whether hardhat, or baseball hat, heads were covered.
The faces seen on these walls are just some of the people I met. Everyone was incredibly open and willing to participate in these ‘unsolicited’ portraits, and I am very grateful to them.
Eventually, I would like to take this series further – to arrange time for those who work ‘up North’ to sit for a portrait. My hope is to have each person tell me how they want to be portrayed, what ‘props’ they would want to have in the portrait with them and let the painting process unfold as a conversation between us. The human face is magic, and tells a story. As an artist I feel it is a true honour to be in communion with that magic, and the responsibility that comes with such story telling is a privilege.
The story of oil, Earth’s ancient resource is a global story. However, brining it home I hope to explore the impact ‘oil’ has on present-day Alberta; I would like to tell this story through the faces of those people whose livelihood depends on what the Great White North has coursing through its earthly veins.
Ultimately, I hope to create a moment of dialogue between the face looking at a portrait and the portrayed face looking back, pausing to think about the legacy we all leave behind.