|The 24-foot long painting Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and
Transformation by Kent Monkman|
Montreal’s McCord Museum this week acquired Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation by Kent Monkman, an internationally renowned out-and-proud Canadian artist of Cree ancestry.
The work was created in 2013 as part of the Museum’s Artist-in-Residence program and was exhibited from January 30 to June 1, 2014.
Monkman’s massive 24-foot-long painting focuses on the relationship between photography and painting and was inspired by the work of William Notman, one of Montreal’s premier 19th-century photographers, and French painter Gustave Courbet, leader of the realist movement.
Welcome to the Studio also comprises more than 30 portraits by Notman, chosen from the McCord Museum’s Notman Photographic Archives of some 600,000 photos.
“The project started [in 2013] when we started looking at photographs, which I began to study six months later,” Monkman told me earlier this year. “It took about two months to do the painting.”
Monkman’s painting alludes to The Artist’s Studio, the celebrated work by Courbet. Like Courbet, Monkman portrays himself in an imaginary studio studying the artistic practice of painting. In rich allegorical terms, he personifies this reflection through a self-portrait that draws on both Courbet the painter and Notman the photographer. The figures that surround Monkman, painted from more than 30 portraits in the Notman archives, are assembled using the composite photography technique of Notman while respecting the arrangement of figures in the work by Courbet.
“We did not find any male nudes in the Notman archives,” Monkman says. “But we came up with something close: male athletes. Notman didn’t photograph any aboriginals [either], so we came up with photographs of white French Canadians dressing up like Indians. We also found some photos of colourful characters with elaborate costumes and backdrops, and I realized this would all make for a really rich and interesting painting.”
The McCord launched a campaign on March 2014 to help raise the necessary funds to purchase the painting. The response was very favourable, and the work is now on display in the halls of the McCord’s permanent exhibition Montreal – Points of View.
“We are particularly happy about this acquisition,” says Suzanne Sauvage, president and CEO of the McCord..“This work is not only an allegory of the artistic practice, it’s also a form of tribute to Montreal and our wonderful collection, the Notman Photographic Archives, where Kent Monkman found inspiration. It demonstrates too the generosity of Montrealers, to whom I would like to express our sincere gratitude.”
Meanwhile, Monkman – a contemporary artist of Cree ancestry who grew up in Winnipeg before moving to Toronto – continues to prominently address aboriginal and queer identity in his art.
“My gay identity is usually at the forefront of my work; I never shy away from it, and it’s in Welcome to the Studio, although perhaps in a more subtle way,” he says. “It was fun creating this painting with phallic references, which in a way can be more erotic than just showing a penis. So just for fun [in my own portrait in the painting], I even put a huge paint brush in my hand!”
Monkman smiles, then adds, “It’s about having the biggest brush!”