Canadian painter Kent Monkman’s process, from inspiration to final painting

Canadian painter Kent Monkman’s process, from inspiration to final painting


[Off screen] Kick back with your feet. That’s it! Great! Let’s get that anger – angry face.
Screaming! How I work is probably not like how anybody else works. And the way I do it is constantly evolving. This is good. Let’s see the other guy. What goes on in the studio is collaboration. I’m not micromanaging everything –
I am definitely directing everything. Higher with the feather, yeah.
A little bend in your elbow. And the entire process – it’s like
I’ve grown four extra sets of hands. It was time to kind of really make
history paintings that put the emphasis on Indigenous stories. To really
authorize these events that are still happening. Colonization is alive and well. When you see people standing up to protest a pipeline, that’s a very visible,
and often sometimes violent – those are violent encounters – that really show the
resistance of Indigenous people. We’ve got images here of military scenes,
and as I looked at these I noticed there were certain similarities
compositionally in these paintings that relate to what’s going on here. I’m not even necessarily trying to reproduce what I’m seeing in a
painting or a mood board, it’s more about a feeling. I want you guys, like, screaming. Ya, like And, action. What we started doing in the
studio was bringing models in and photographing models. And I would stage photo shoots posing them in the kinds of action scenes that I wanted. The more we can capture
in this photograph the better it is for us when we get to the painting stage because I’m working with assistants and if I – you know – I can
leave things that I can fill in with my imagination but they don’t know what
that is and they might not necessarily how to do that. So I really want to give them
the best source material that I can. [Brad off screen] The photo is just a tool. It’s a tool as, you know, referring to a sketch, or referring to a study or a
watercolour. It’s a tool to produce the
best painting possible. It’s a very classical process and you know there’s – it’s nothing new to use photo. [Brad] I know, I like the hand in this one. [Kent] You could just ‘shop her face on to that. But it’s her face too Let’s see them both. I’ve been training Cindy and
Laura to paint a very specific way. The fact that my assistants – it’s kind
of impossible to tell who worked on what, unless they tell me. And I like that because that means that we’re
all working very well together. When I matured as a painter my intention
was to actually disappear my own hand in my work. And, you know, the Old Masters –
when they made copies of other Old Master’s paintings – that was their
intention as well. It’s that the ego wasn’t in your brushstroke. That your work
wasn’t readily so identifiable on the surface, it was through the much larger
sort of vision and body of work. When they get those images they have the
confidence to know exactly what I want. And as they move through creating work,
I’m constantly stepping in to say I think that’s too dark or I think we need to adjust this. Ya, darker is good. Painting is about repainting, so I’m never really too worried
if things kind of go off in one direction or in another, because I could
always pull it back. That’s the joy of it and that’s also the challenge of it. So this painting for me is one small
part of this much larger body of work which will explore much more complex
scenes. There’s a very strong male/female kind of tension in this painting, where
the two protesters happen to be female. I really wanted to focus on the figures
with this body of work so that meant removing detail or at least obscuring it
with smoke and really pull the focus to the emotion of the figures. The expression
and the human faces and the action of the figures. And the violence that’s
going on in each scene. The very end stage is sometimes the most
satisfying because that’s when you really – all that work gets pulled
together and you’re finally able to realize that image that you’ve had in
your head. Really, it’s about bringing the painting together and making it really feel cohesive. I do that with glazing transparent layers at the
end and I get subtle refinements in terms of the illusion of space, cooling
things off, warming things up. [Brad] That’s good. That’s really, really
making those shadows pop. It’s something that when you look at it from far away it looks perfect, and then you get up close and you go, ‘Oh that’s just – it’s just a
bunch of wiggles.” But that’s what painting is – it’s wiggling
a brush on a canvas. When I’ve finished a painting I’ll just
know that I’ve touched it just enough. And that’s just a personal thing… I just – you just know it.

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