The Whale as a Dish
This project was made possible with the support of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, the collaboration of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association and, of course, the people of Utqiagvik. In 2013, I spent seven months in the Arctic documenting and painting the subsistence whaling culture of the Inupiaq people of Utqiagvik, Alaska.
Inupiat tradition says that the whale chooses you. The animal gives itself to you. It chooses the whaler and the crew that is most respectful, that has the cleanest umiaq, that doesn't quarrel on the ice, that is patient, organized, quiet and clean. If you are not ready to receive it, the animal may go to a different crew or community, or pass by altogether and continue its migration. This gift is the ultimate sacrifice. This quiet, otherwordly giant appears out of the depths of a frozen ocean so that you and your community can continue to survive in one of the harshest climates on the planet.
During my seven month stay, I followed whaling crews out onto the tundra and sea ice and created several small and large-scale studies of various stages of the whale hunt. For the series, I have chosen to depict only that moment when the community comes together to receive the whale. It is this exchange, the absorption of one life into another, that I find most striking. This scene is depicted in two large-scale triptychs of the spring and fall hunt.
This series was created from first-person experience and research. The two large triptychs were painted from several of the thousands of photographic references that I took and compositional painting sketches that I made while in Utqiagvik. Several other paintings were created from this experience but exist outside of the series, including a triptych depicting the blanket toss of Naluqatak- the celebration of a successful, spring whaling season.
"The Whale as a Dish", Fall Hunt
triptych, oil on canvas, 180"x88", 2015
"The Whale as a Dish", Spring Hunt
triptych, oil on canvas, 180"x88", 2014
detail from panel 2 of "The Whale as a Dish", Fall Hunt
detail from panel 3 of "The Whale as a Dish", Spring Hunt
scale reference for "The Whale as a Dish" paintings