Prospector, salvager and artist Walt Humphries has been painting, drawing and doodling for over 50 years. A retrospective of his work is planned for later this year and curators are asking anyone with a Humphries original to get in touch.
“In school I was a doodler, I was one of those people who was always drawing little pictures on the side of my notes,” he says. “But I didn’t start seriously doing it until I got through school and was out working. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Completely self-taught, 70-year-old Humphries has been depicting the culture and community of Yellowknife as well as his prospecting experience in the NWT and Nunavut.
“It was a much smaller town…and it was much more of a frontier town where if you said you were going out to work in the bush everybody knew what that meant,” he says of Yellowknife in the 1970s and 80s. “So there was a lot of exploration people and drillers and pilots and fishermen and trappers and that sort of thing. And Yellowknife was where you came to blow off some steam, celebrate before the next job. So it was a transient population.”
Humphries’ work runs the gamut from raucous nights at the Gold Range to life in the bush to fantasy works of headframe homes and post-apocalyptic street scenes.
“Because I worked in mineral exploration, that’s where I made my money and art was my winter time passion,” he says. “When I sit down and do a painting I don’t think ‘is this going to sell or not.’ Do I want to do it or not is the question.”
An exhibit at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre running from December to June next year will display around 40 of these works. This will be Humphries’ largest exhibit this far, after showing his work in a couple of Yellowknife galleries which are no longer open. He has a few prints at the Down to Earth Gallery in Old Town.
Behind the exhibit are fine arts journalist and curator Sarah Swan and photographer and former gallery owner Bill Braden, who both approached Walt with the idea of a show.
Over the years, Humphries’ estimates he’s sold and given away a few hundred paintings. Some of these have ended up in faraway lands – Australia, Africa, Europe – the geologists especially like to move around and take their prints with them.
Now the search is on to track down a few of these original paintings for the exhibit. “The challenge now is to find out what’s out there,” says Swan, “so we can have the most works to choose from for the show. Even if they’re not in Yellowknife, we’d like to know about them.”
Humphries says since the call went out, he’s gotten several responses and a few surprises. “I didn’t get a chance to document all of my paintings, so a lot of the stuff that’s out there, it’s a surprise when I see it,” he laughs. “We’ve got several and a couple of them, when I saw the picture I had forgotten that I had painted it…and it’s always interesting to hear the stories, where they’ve travelled to.”
Anyone who is in possession of one of these original paintings can send a photo of the work to [email protected] A photo taken on a cell phone will do, as long as it is received by September 1st.
“We’ll be asking owners to loan their works to the exhibition for several months,” says Braden. “We will pay for professional packing and shipping for chosen pieces from out of town. If you know someone who has a Humphries on their wall, please let them know about this.”