Edmonton artist gets brush with fame as reality TV program puts landscape painters to the test

Watching paint dry hardly sounds like the premise for an exciting reality TV show. 

Unless you’re the painter.

For Mackenzie Brown, a Cree artist, musician and youth worker from Edmonton, being a contestant on the reality show Landscape Artist of the Year Canada was a nerve-wracking process that had her training like an athlete to prepare.

In the show, artists are taken to a location and go head to head, painting the landscape they see in front of them in four hours. There are 18 artists in total, competing six at a time. Two are chosen to move on to the finals.

Brown said executing art on such a tight timeline didn’t just take some getting used to — it took some practice.

“It was a lot of practice leading up. I did, like, heats of two hours about every night. My entire household became just max art supplies trying to get ready for the competition,” she told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Monday. 

“And it changes the way that you think, in the sense that you make very snap decisions. You’re not thinking, ‘Oh what would look best.’ You’re thinking, ‘That’s it.I’m going to paint it. Let’s go.'”

Her detailed, vibrantly-coloured paintings normally take upwards of 24 hours to complete.

This is a sample of the work Brown submitted in applying to the show. Her work includes Indigenous influences such as beads, porcupine quills and caribou tufts. (Submitted by Mackenzie Brown)

Landscape Artist of the Year Canada is based on a similar British program, which has been described as the U.K.’s “best-performing, non-scripted series of all time.”

Brown learned about it on Facebook and she applied, thinking it was just an art contest. When she was accepted — and learned it was a reality TV program — she wasn’t keen to go ahead.

Her mom changed her mind.

“I called her and I said ‘I don’t think I want to do this’ and she said, ‘What! I think you’re crazy!  You have to go!'”

Brown was the second-youngest competitor on the show and the only Indigenous one. 

In creating her four-hour landscape, she was proud to have been able to incorporate some traditional methods.

“I really like to deal with the contemporary and the traditional worlds that I live in and so I actually use different mediums in my artistry. I beat on the canvas. I caribou  tuft, I porcupine quill and so I was able to incorporate a lot of that into the paintings, too.

She was one of the two winners of the third episode, which aired Sunday night on Makeful, a lifestyle specialty channel. She will move on to the final painting challenge, which will air Sunday at 7 p.m. MT on Makeful and at a later date on CBC.

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