The cultural impact of Canada’s tar sands

We don’t sing the praises of the tar sands, or any fossil fuel developments for that matter. But for a good diversion, have a look at the artistry that has come from Calgary artist Edward Michell. Danielle Nerman explains on the CBC News website.


Alberta oil fetches high dollar on canvas


While Alberta oil companies struggle to make a profit off bitumen, a Calgary artist is making an excellent living off the sludgy, black resource.

Edward Michell has built an international reputation for his abstract work composed primarily of thick strokes of bitumen on canvas.

His works sell from $800 to $40,000 and his clients hail from across Europe, Asia and North America.

“I usually wear three or four gloves at a time. It’s thick like toffee,” Michell told the Calgary Eyeopener’s Paul Karchut.


“After it dries and it’s varnished it creates a wonderful, almost like a rainbow of darkness. But it’s quite exceptional.”

Michell’s oily works are often finished with a sprinkling of precious metals: gold and silver from the Yukon and crushed diamonds from the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories.

“So we have really physical, ugly black mess that I paint with, which is the oilsands,” he said. “The delicacy of the gold and silver on top almost like an icing. It’s quite a contradiction.”

Bitumen takes a year to dry

The artist sources his bitumen directly from the Alberta oilsands.

When Michell started working with the media, the public relations departments from Syncrude and Suncor shipped three massive barrels to his studio on a flatbed truck.

“Each barrel weighed about 1,000 pounds and I was not equipped to lift it off myself, so I sent it back to them and now they send me one-litre buckets.”

He admits that initially, he was very naive about the drying time.

“I’d work on the painting and it would go that same night to the gallery and slowly you’d see the oilsands come down the painting, very slowly — falling, falling, falling!”

“The drying time on this is a killer. Minimum one year.”



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