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Memory in the Making: The Paintings of Megan Kyak-Monteith

Jan 30, 2020
by Britt Gallpen

Kyak-Monteith, a Halifax-based painter, builds rich, textural and evocative scenes through a collage-like technique that merges personal memories with those of others.

A massive midnight-blue whale sinks into wet sand. Its creamy pink interior slumps forward, revealed by small figures that carefully peel back incised panels of blubber. Atop the whale, a man in a brown coat lifts up a square of flesh—it makes me think of metal flashing or oversized roofing tiles. The crowds, gathered above and below, work quickly, while beyond them three small children play at the shoreline.

It is hard to fathom the magnitude of this creature and the smallness of these people, to fully comprehend this Gulliver of a whale amongst these Lilliputian figures. “The whale is a lot bigger than it would have been in real life,” explains artist Megan Kyak-Monteith. “I sized it up.” Kyak-Monteith, a Halifax-based painter, builds the rich, textural and evocative scenes visible in works such as Whale Hunt (2018) through a collage-like technique that merges personal memories with those of others, familial storytelling and additional image-based references. The process begins with the selection and writing of a memory before an intensive research phase that includes gathering information and imagery, after which Kyak-Monteith creates a photographic collage. This montage is then used as the basis for a series of sketches that guide the final painted image. “A lot of it is imagination,” explains the artist. “I don’t want it to be a painting of a photograph. It’s many photographs made to look like a memory.” Returning to the gargantuan whale, she explains its exaggerated size. “That’s how it felt when I first saw it. So when someone else sees this painting, they get that same feeling.”


Megan Kyak-Monteith
Kids Play in Paradise (2018) Oil 103.6 x 152.4 cm

This impulse to share a feeling permeates Kyak-Monteith’s work. Pooling in the deep folds of shadowed skin in Nude (2017) or emanating from the polar light cast onto exterior windows and walls in Kids in Play Paradise (2018), Kyak-Monteith’s paintings are arresting in their stillness and magnetic in their pull. Despite their creation as composite scenes pulled from numerous visual and non-visual sources, these dreamy, sometimes surreal images capture the North as a deeply personal site that refuses easy categorization. “I don’t want [my work] to be exclusively understood by people in northern communities,” says Kyak-Monteith. “For me, this is the ordinary kind of stuff, small things, like those houses or the whale. For someone who hasn’t seen a whale before, it’s like once you see it in the painting, I guess, then you can kind of imagine it.”

A fourth-year visual arts student at NSCAD University, Kyak-Monteith is poised for an exciting year ahead. Already she has secured gallery representation with Raven Art Gallery in Ridgeway, ON, and has plans to co-curate her first exhibition with fellow NSCAD artist Darcie Bernhardt. Beyond this, Kyak-Monteith is keen to pursue a residency abroad following her graduation in April 2019. “It could be interesting to experience art somewhere other than Atlantic Canada or the North,” says the artist. Regardless of the where, the what seems to be perfectly clear. “I want to [create works that] blend not just my memories but those of other people,” explains Kyak-Monteith. “I am thinking of also painting my grandma’s stories. She would tell me stories all the time and I would record them. I did a painting of one of them and it was so funny. It’s very sweet and difficult and fun trying to paint something from someone else’s memory or experiences. So I want to try doing [more of] that.”


Megan Kyak-Monteith
Nude (2017) Oil 121.9 x 91.4 cm

All quotes from Megan Kyak-Monteith taken from a telephone conversation with Ashley McLellan June 26, 2018.

This Profile first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Inuit Art Quarterly.

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