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Artist explores secret-keeping

MacNaughton's portraits will be displayed at Rio's Wine Bar in Sitka through the end of May. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

MacNaughton’s portraits will be displayed at Rio’s Wine Bar in Sitka through the end of May. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Juneau artist MK MacNaughton asks people about secrets.

She doesn’t ask them to tell her their secrets – instead, she asks what it feels like to keep secrets. And then she uses their stories to guide her in drawing giant charcoal portraits – three feet tall by three feet wide – that express those feelings.

MacNaughton created a set of portrait trading cards from her work. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

MacNaughton created a set of portrait trading cards from her work. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Seventeen of those portraits were shown recently in the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and now about ten of them are hanging at Rio’s Wine Bar in Sitka.

MacNaughton asked her subjects to give her an image that represents the experience of holding onto secrets. The first person she asked was a friend, Shona Strauser.

“Shona’s image was butterflies. She said the weight of one butterfly on my heart is nothing, but the weight of a thousand is too many to bear,” MacNaughton said. “People tell her secrets. Which I realized is why I was drawn to her as a subject, because she was somebody that I feel like I could confide in. And apparently everyone feels that way, and that was one of my favorites.”

During the project, MacNaughton volunteered to do portraits at Juneau’s Glory Hole soup kitchen and homeless shelter. One of the men who showed up to have his portrait taken told her that there was one secret he couldn’t bear to keep.

“His mom had been killed in a gang shooting when he was eight years old and died in his arms,” MacNaughton said. “He described the wounds, and he said, you know I have to talk about it, or it’s like a brick wall on my shoulders.”

The artist based her portraits on what people told her about keeping secrets. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

The artist based her portraits on what people told her about keeping secrets. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Another subject, a radiology technologist, talked about the moment when she saw something on a patient’s scan that would change her life, but couldn’t tell her – because telling the patient is the doctor’s job. MacNaughton drew her inside the “cone of silence” from the TV show Get Smart.

MacNaughton has practiced art all her life, but she only recently started calling herself an artist. She was for years the artistic coordinator at The Canvas Community Art Studio, which offers art classes for people with disabilities, and is now the Executive Director of the Alaska Arts Education Consortium.

At a certain point, she said, she just had to take a leap of faith.

“It was just deciding I was gonna do it. Just deciding,” MacNaughton said. “All my life I’ve enjoyed art, and I never called myself an artist until a couple of years ago, probably because I thought it sounds arrogant. Because, does that mean I think I’m good enough to be an artist, or really good? So I avoided that theme, though I would always encourage the children or artists with disabilities that I worked with to call themselves artists. And I finally took my own advice and thought, ‘I need to get over it.’ We all do, we need to celebrate being brave enough to try.”

MacNaughton’s portraits will remain on display at Rio’s Wine Bar through the end of May. Rio’s will host an opening reception for the artwork tomorrow (Sat 4-12-14) from 5 to 9 p.m.

MacNaughton will teach two charcoal drawing classes during the day tomorrow (Sat 4-12-14): an introduction to still life drawing from 10 a.m. to noon, and a class on drawing portraits from 1-3 p.m. The costs for each class is $20. Students in the portrait class should bring a photograph to draw from. 

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