"When I was a kid I was always painting, drawing, It was a real joy for me. There was never any question in my mind that that's what I would be doing. When it came to that point in my life of what to do, I knew I was going to pursue my life as an artist."
Kent Monkman is a filmmaker, illustrator, and visual artist who began his exploration of the arts as a painter. The artist is a member of the Fisher River Band in northern Manitoba and is of Swampy Cree and English/Irish descent. He was raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Monkman has always had a love for the arts. His work is inspired by his Indigenous heritage and deals with the impact of Christianity on indigenous peoples around the world. At the age of 17, he decided to study illustration through a Commercial Art program at Sheridan College, Oakville (1986). From there he went on to train as an artist in various institutions in Canada and the United States: The Banff Centre, Alberta (1992); Sundance Institute, Los Angeles (1998); and the Canadian Screen Training Institute (2001).
In his first series of paintings, entitled The Prayer Language, Monkman builds on themes of sexual power relations and Christianity. This theme is further explored in a second series The Moral Landscape. In this series, Monkman dispenses with innuendo and paints explicit portrayals of his version of a colonial past. With this series, the device is 19th century landscape painting, while the method continues to be ironic reversal. Monkman uses idealized portrayals of the North American western landscape as a stage set to act out homoerotic fantasies and devious role reversals. Monkman’s imagery challenges the ethnographic accuracy attributed to the representations of “Indians” by artists such as Stanley, Paul Kane, Peter Rindisbacher, Cornelius Krieghoff, and others through the interventions he makes. Portrait of the Artist as Hunter, in the Gallery’s collection, is part of this series of paintings. It is framed with ornate gold, as is the norm for the type of historical painting the artist is mimicking.
Since his first solo exhibition at Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver in 1993, Polarities, Monkman has exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum (1994) and with various galleries in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa. His most recent solo exhibition was The Prayer Language at The Indian Art Centre in Ottawa. Since 1991, he has also has participated in many group exhibitions across North America. He also participates regularly in the annual First Nations Art exhibition organized by the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford.
Kent Monkman’s work is included in the collection of the Woodland Cultural Centre, Brantford; The Indian Art Centre, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Gatineau; and Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa.
Monkman currently works and lives in Toronto.