I’m currently visiting Montreal for a high school reunion and I’m getting to meet some of our Montreal figurative artists. Had a nice meeting with Kai McCall this morning, one of my first long distance meetups. His studio has good northern light with ground floor windows as he is down a few stairs in a big creative space building on Ontario east in Montreal. He just had 2 current pieces up on his working wall, still works in progress but fairly well along their journey he feels.
These two unfinished 52 x 36 inch works are part of his current hunting portrait series. He pulled up his laptop and toured me through the rest of his current work, all gone out to the galleries he deals with in Montreal and Ottawa. I hope to visit his Montreal Gallerie d’Avignon this week and maybe get to the Ottawa one, Galerie St-Laurent plus Hill next week when I’m there for a few days.
His works have a subtle, wry humour about them, some deadpan humour that comes partially from going through the effort of labouring away in oil paints in the manner of our artist forefathers when there are so many other ways to capture an image today. Having lived abroad and spent time in both North America and Europe, his work juxtaposes some 1950’s pinup attitude with old European masters like Tiepolo and Velasquez. Of course Vargas and many of the classic pinup artists were well-steeped in European art history before they branched out to carve their very popular niche.
In earlier years, Kai helped support his art habit with spring time tree planting, art portfolio photography and other jobs but has been a working artist full time now since eight years. He has created many commissioned portraits as well as his own studio work.
He starts with sketching out his idea even before he chooses a model or costume. When the attitude and pose in his sketch have taken shape, he works with a model or even himself in the mirror to photograph the actual pose. More drawing brings the work into focus and then he’s ready to project the drawing lines onto the canvas and get going with the oils. His many brushes lay waiting patiently beside his paint tubes and palette sheet and nearby a rather humourous stack of rags was heaped, some of which came straight from his childrens limbs as they out grew them I think.
Kai speaks excellent French, having grown up here and also having worked in France. He has made an effort to show in Quebec, the rest of Canada and occasionally in The US and Europe too.
Kai helped me make a short list of galleries to try to see in my limited time here in Montreal and also gave me excellent directions to a great used book store where I picked up eight french novels from some of my favourite english authors to keep up my french reading.
Stay tuned for more studio visits next week!