BY TARA McCARTHY

From the sprawling mountains to the vibrant blue lakes and autumn hues, the Yukon’s natural side has been well documented by a multitude of artists.

Now the time has come for characters to occupy the spotlight in the Yukon Portraits exhibit at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse.

“A lot of times when people think ‘What is Yukon art?’ it is definitely landscapes. Because, I mean, you can’t help it, our nature is so overwhelming,” says Mary Bradshaw, curator for the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery.

During a visit to Ottawa, Bradshaw got a glimpse of the work intended for the National Portrait Gallery.

The gallery’s location is to be determined, but Bradshaw, along with photographer Mario Villeneuve and Yukon Government arts curator Heather Leduc, thought it would be fitting for the Yukon to get a creative head start.

“We realized ‘Wow, we need to put a show together to showcase Yukon portraits,'” she says. “And we hope to record this and then also send it back to the National and say ‘Hey look, there’s a lot of portraits going on here, too.'”

Bradshaw says it’s been interesting to see how many local artists were already working in portraiture.

Villeneuve’s exploration of tintype photography will be on display in the show. Tintype is a wet-plate process used in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“So much of Mario’s work is interesting because he’s using the old techniques,” Bradshaw explains. “And this one he literally has to put the plates in the oven to then put on the emulsion to then put in the camera.”

Janelle Hardy’s photography will also be included. Last summer during a stint at Arts In The Park, Hardy photographed Yukoners and visitors with a less traditional approach.

“I took a couple of regular pictures and then I’d get them to close their eyes. It’s really neat what just closing your eyes and shutting out the outside world shows to someone,” she says.

“So there’s this kind of realness and vulnerability that would instantly come from someone willing to close their eyes and have their picture taken.”

Hardy will also exhibit her one and only attempt at printmaking. After taking a workshop about a year ago, she learned the basics of the meticulous process. The final result is an intimate image of her husband cast in aqua tint.

Hardy says her passion for capturing people is born out of fascination.

“Trying to see past the mask and see who the person is, or portraying the mask because sometimes how people present themselves is just as fascinating as what’s hidden underneath,” she says.

Photography is just one of many media in the show. Bradshaw says with over a dozen contributing artists, the range is wide with everything from formal paintings to textiles and glass blowing.

There will be plenty of interaction as well. Meshell Melvin will conduct live demonstrations of her portrait stitching technique and Val Hodgson will hold a workshop on painting skin tone.

And the venue will stretch beyond the four walls of the Fire Hall.

“A number of the storefronts along Main Street are going to take some of the images too. So [the artists] may have one or two in the Fire Hall and then another one in Seasons’ front window or in Coast Mountain’s front window or the bookstore. So, you’re going to run into the show whether you like it or not,” Bradshaw says with a laugh.

Yukon Portraits is on display at the Old Fire Hall (and in other locations along Main Street in Whitehorse) from June 6 to 14.

BY JANELLE HARDY