Kent Monkman is a Canadian artist of Cree ancestry who works with a variety of mediums, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. He has had solo exhibitions at numerous Canadian museums including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. He is represented by Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain in Montreal and Trepanier Baer Gallery in Calgary.
As a young artist, I was a good representational painter but I felt like that style was too easy. Instead, I adopted a pared down vocabulary that was more in line with abstract expressionists. I realized that ultimately the paintings were too personal and people were outside of the work too much. It’s almost like someone talking about their dreams–you glaze over when someone is talking about their dreams.
At that point, I started looking deeply into art history where I could deal with more layers and narratives. I wanted to be better at communicating and use a more expansive vocabulary of painting. My newest exhibition of work focuses on mythological allegories of violation to represent First Nations being violated by European settlers. For example, there’s the Greek myth where Danae is impregnated by Zeus disguised as golden coins. It’s about money and exploitation. In my painting, Miss Chief [a reoccurring character] is receiving a golden shower. It’s kind of perverted. I’m a little perverted.
I develop ideas constantly and I keep them in a log book. It’s really personal. My studio assistants haven’t even seen it. It’s just for me. There’s thoughts, ideas, visuals and concepts. I’m absorbing material from reading books and looking at art so it comes out in different ways. Actually, I should make copies of that book because if it ever disappears, I’m screwed. When I’ve gone back through the book, I realized that I’ve executed most of them into paintings or installations.
You need to have a scheduled practice to be productive. I’ve never treated by art as something I did only when I felt like it. I would never get anything done. When I started getting a lot busier, about 15 years ago, I couldn’t do everything by myself. I would spend the entire day answering emails, running errands and buying supplies. By the time I got back to the studio mid-afternoon, I was already depleted and exhausted. That was the critical turning point when I started working with assistants.
There can be misconceptions when people hear that you have studio assistants. They think, ‘Oh, he doesn’t make all of his own work.’ Actually, it’s difficult to have a team that you train and organize to help you execute your vision. Because they know how I make paintings, they can help develop the strategy for a body of work–someone is going to gesso, someone is going to stretch canvas–everything is set up and organized. We have a project that needs to be ready for 2017 and we’re already working on it. It takes times to produce a big project. The logistics of production, after all the research and conceptualization, will probably take a year.
When I need to recharge, I go to my farm in Prince Edward County. I love nature and I always wanted a place in the country but it took awhile to make it happen. I’ve always prioritized my art making. That’s been number one. I lived in my studio for many, many years and made my personal things secondary. It was only last year that I stopped living in the same place as my studio. It was time to separate because five assistants coming to your house everyday is too much. I could never take a day off. The move has increased productivity because now my team isn’t tiptoeing around my space. It’s the studio and it’s only for making art.
–Kent Monkman, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Courtney Vokey
Visit Kent Monkman’s website here.