Nfld. & Labrador

Corner Brook painter highlights pandemic productivity in portraits

More time on one's hands as a result of the pandemic can often come with a pressure to be productive. It's a feeling Corner Brook artist Michelle MacKinnon knows well, and one she was able to turn into art.

Pandemic portraits to be shown at The Rooms throughout the fall

Corner Brook artist Michelle MacKinnon created the Pandemic Portrait series to highlight the different meanings of productivity through the pandemic. (Lucas Morneau/Submitted by Michelle MacKinnon)

Many people have had more time on their hands since the pandemic began, and it often comes with the pressure to be productive.

It's a feeling Corner Brook artist Michelle MacKinnon knows well, and one she turned into art.

"I just started thinking about what it meant to be productive in this time. I found that I wasn't being super productive in the beginning. I wasn't really inspired to be working on anything at the time," MacKinnon told The St. John's Morning Show on Friday.

"So one morning I kind of woke up and I just decided that I wanted to go back to the idea of something familiar, something comfortable."

"I had done portraiture long ago in my art practice, and decided to return to that to think about productivity as something like a small, achievable goal that I can do, and just get something small done every day," she added.

MacKinnon asked other artists to be the subject of her portraits, asking them to submit a picture of their "pandemic state," along with a caption about their accomplishments during pandemic, no matter how mundane.

She says some sent photos of things as mundane as cleaning out a tote bag, some were of people who had been laid off, and others were of people who'd had their first child.

 "I really loved the different scale of significance that each artist told me about and how they interpreted the project."

MacKinnion has since completed more than 40 portraits of artists since the project began. She said it's been a great experience to connect with other artists on a personal level.

She says many artists are also struggling to stay productive in difficult times.

"We had and still do have everyone coming from one angle at us, saying, 'Be productive, do this, do that, this is the time when you're supposed to get everything done.' But then we've also been hearing the other side of that, when people have been saying 'self-care, do nothing, just take this time to relax,'" she said. 

"And I think as artists, we felt a really strange pull to both of them, and there's a pressure to both of them."

The main thing she heard from everyone was that they weren't really making anything right now — or if they were, it was small things, she said.

"So it was nice to be able to talk to other people about that and just know that other people were kind of going through the same kind of productivity cycle that I was going through."

MacKinnon said she has been getting great response from the public since posting the portraits on her Instagram page, with viewers often relating the captions to their own experiences through the pandemic. Others have told her seeing familiar faces on their social media through portraits has been comforting in times of isolation.

"One of the sitters that I actually painted, when I asked him to participate, he said it's been really great being able to see all these familiar faces pop up every day," she said. "I've been a bit lonely in isolation, but it's kind of like having my friends pop up into my feed every day."

The portraits will be on display at The Rooms from Sept. 4 to Nov. 1 as part of the upcoming Present Tense series, based on making art out of the pandemic, and will also be featured in Art North Magazine.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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