Shell put out a call to artists to capture the moment at an oil refinery as it goes through a 'turn around' (or a proverbial house cleaning).
From those artists who answered the call, 10 were selected and invited to spend a day at the Shell Scotford Refinery, site to one of the most modern and efficient refineries in North America.
Just a year prior to this call I desperately (and unsuccessfully) tried to gain access to an actual oil refinery site. I learned quickly that getting on a rig site is not easy for an artist with a camera and a vision of painting portraits of the workers. When this call from Shell surfaced, I jumped at the chance to get involved.
After passing a safety and security orientation, I donned coveralls, a hard hat, steel toed boots, an H2S detector, ear plugs, safety goggles and gloves. I quickly became 'one of many' and was now ready to tour the site (in the company of a designated Shell staff member, of course).
Hobbling in my big boots amidst the clanging noises of the refinery, climbing the towering scaffolding built up around a myriad of pipes and wires and tubes... I felt like a martian. I've never been to Mars, but I imagine that it bears resemblance to this place. Ironically, what impressed me the most was the human element amongst all the heavy equipment and mechanical noise. There were happy hard working faces, peaking out from a welding helmet, waiving from the window of a truck. Smiling gregarious characters met my camera, and were eager to share their story.
The image below is of the four I chose to paint. From a brief interaction, I learned that they're pipe fitters who have been working together for 30 years. They still seemed to genuinely like each other.
One lesson learned from working with Shell is that things move quickly in the oil and gas business: we only had 3 weeks to complete our work (which is a far cry from how long I would normally spend on a painting). Though I'm not terribly happy with the finished product, the visit to Shell Scotford was a genuine adventure.
This picture, along with the work of other artists made in response to their site visit, will be at the Alberta Gallery of Art for the month of December.
(24x30", oil on linen, 2013)