Newfoundland artist's sealskin Ellen Degeneres could be his big break

Cory Hurley
Published on April 3, 2014

Corner Brook artist Rodney Mercer is seen with his portrait of Ellen DeGeneres that he made out of a seal pelt.  

©Geraldine Brophy - TC Media


Most artists spend their lives searching for a defining moment. Rodney Mercer believes he just found his.

The Corner Brook artist and his sealskin portrait of Ellen DeGeneres went viral when traditional media coverage expanded to the province and across the country.

The Hollywood star and daytime television host tweeted a “selfie” during the Oscars, which became the most retweeted picture in the history of Twitter. In conjunction with a Samsung hashtag, the electronics company donated one dollar to charity for each of the more than three million retweets.

DeGeneres has reportedly directed $1.5 million to the Humane Society of the United States — a major opponent of the Canadian seal hunt.

Mercer felt compelled to respond to what he described as irregularities in Degeneres’ message, the misinformation on her website and the aim of the Humane Society to stop the seal hunt.

The local artist created his own version of a DeGeneres selfie — something that then became referred to as a “sealfie,” creating its own trend across the country. The national attention included spots by MacLeans magazine and the Huffington Post website.

His attempt to raise awareness of the seal hunt in a positive light — through this piece of sensational art work — was effective, he said. It was so effiective that Mercer distanced himself from the attention for a while, before settling back in and realizing just how far he had reached.

“The intention of it was to stop the spreading of misinformation, and hopefully disseminate truth, honest and intelligent discussion,” Mercer said via telephone from the JL Gallery in Corner Brook, where the DeGeneres portrait hangs.

“I really just kind of let the piece and the viral media and traditional media do its thing.”

The man who grew up in Dildo — home of the Carino seal processing plant — and whose grandfather worked in the seal industry, admitted the whole thing has been emotional for him. Not only is he personally connected to this piece, but he may very well have launched his career as an artist to a new height.

It definitely has me thinking about artwork outside the frame. I am really excited. Rodney Mercer

He believes the planets aligned for him on this project.

“It definitely has me thinking about artwork outside the frame,” he said. “I am really excited.”

Which leads to the question of what’s next.

Mercer, who characterized himself as somewhat a private person, is already working on his next contemporary piece. He expects this experience to have an impact on his work and life.

“It kind of made me do a bit more soul searching of my own self, of what I eat and things like that,”he said. “It’s a hard world to live perfect, and perfection doesn’t exist.”

He acknowledges he follows social media and public interests, and sees the benefit of creating art which has a connection with people. He said a piece of art he has a personal connection to would be gratifying, but it could also be something that relates to the people he meets and places he visit.

However, don’t expect him to sell himself out in the process.

Mercer believes the DeGeneres piece will eventually find itself in a private collection somewhere. He has received offers for it, but he does not think he will receive an extraordinary amount. He seems just fine with that.

“There are many types of payment for your artwork, and monetary payment is just one of them,” he said.

“The non-monetary payment for this artwork went beyond any expectation I ever had in my lifetime.”