Gallery Review: Drawing from Life

January 4th, 2017


Photo by David Vassiliev / The Phoenix News

Photo by David Vassiliev / The Phoenix News

Since November 5, the Kelowna Art Gallery (KAG) has been hosting a new exhibition titled Drawing from Life. The exhibition boasts various large-scale works from local artists David Alexander, Rose Braun, Jane Everett, Wanda Lock, Amy Modahl, Gary Pearson, Sage Sidley, and Johann Wessels. Many of the works tower over viewers, fostering an immersive, and at times daunting, experience. While the sheer size of each installation provides an ample excuse to frequent the gallery in the coming months, four of the eight pieces captured my particular gaze.

Sage Sidley’s, a recent UBCO alumnus, Linked portrays KAG curator Liz Wylie in three different viewing poses. Wylie is sketched directly onto the wall in a space that mirrors the gallery. On one wall, she is seen from the side, one hip popped, with her arms folded and a small, thoughtful frown on her face. On the adjacent wall she is seen both directly, with her arms behind her back, same thoughtful expression on her face, and from behind, looking up, again with her hands intertwined behind her back. The work struck me as an act of both mirroring the gallery space and disciplining it. The viewer sees Wylie, a seasoned curator, assuming “proper” viewing etiquette, and may assume that such poses are integral to the correct way of consuming art. The viewer may, perhaps, even assume such poses themselves as they continue to amble through the exhibit. This play upon the mirroring of gallery space, and an almost Foucauldian disciplining of the body, invite a practice of self-reflexivity through the wonderfully detailed and naturalistic installation.

Jane Everett’s The Hunt dominates the center space of the exhibit. With a bench conveniently placed for viewing, the work presents a wide, quasi-film reel style drawing of a pack of coyotes meandering across a grey background, lead by what appears to be the alpha male. The brush strokes vary between broad and blurred, and thin and concise. Detailed lines are used to provide muscle definition and facial features, while the broad lines surround the coyotes, implying a sense of movement. This dynamism is magnified by the undetailed shadows, the occasionally blurred paws of the animals, and the way in which the coyotes form a vague queue. The installation stands its ground in the centre of the exhibit, providing a ravishing portrayal of a pack on the hunt.

Gary Pearson’s Trees on Knox Mountain is an impressionistic ink and paper collage that portrays the myriad of trees and rocks found on Knox Mountain. The installation couples rough lines with fine details in black and white, producing a moody picture that invokes feelings of stark emptiness in its business. The work consists of multiple large sheets of paper that are pieced together to form the full image. However, while the painted signature exists only in the bottom corner piece, each section has been stamped with the title and author’s name. To me, this aspect of the work invoked a questioning of the commercialization, and ecotourism, present in Kelowna. While the piece cannot claim to be complete without all its pieces, each stamped portion seems to be prepared for individual sale, perhaps commenting on the inclination of tourists to pick apart the beauty of a place in an attempt at consumption.

Photo by David Vassiliev / The Phoenix News

Photos by David Vassiliev / The Phoenix News

My favourite installation comes in the form of Wanda Lock’s Nothing lasts forever… sings Taylor Swift as She drifts through empty rooms…. The piece offers a smattering of collaged Harlequin romance novel covers, sketched Taylor Swift lyrics, and several portrayals of domestic rooms. The installation may seem initially confusing, however, it offers a succinct and in depth view of domestic decay as coupled with ideas of the “good woman”. Each displayed room incorporates elements such as dead trees, peeling wallpaper, deconstructed body parts, faces with mouths agape, and infestations of rats, spiders, and other unsightly animals. The rooms invoke the death of the domestic through a haunting portrayal of decay. Floating above these rooms are Taylor Swift lyrics “I said no one has to know,” producing an air of secrecy as the viewer moves to the thin in-between wall and finds a continuation of the lyrics, “what we do, his hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room, and his voice is a familiar sound, nothing lasts forever.” The lyrics are organized in a slightly disjointed way, keeping with the uneasy defamiliarisation of the domestic rooms. On the other side of the wall, three Harlequin romance covers are hung and modified. On each cover, a man and a woman are in an intimate embrace as Lock’s contributions complicate their narratives.

The covers seem to speak to the alienation of the feminine, and draw attention to the cracks in the image of the good, and benevolent, woman—an image further perpetuated by Taylor Swift and her brand of feminism, one might argue. With undertones of infantalization, loss of innocence, and dehumanization, this side of the wall seems to question the female ideals of the past. The installation seems to attempt to grapple with the complications of femininity and sexuality, and yet reaches no conclusion outside of a haunting chaos. A harkening back to tropes and cliches found in novels of the past may suggest that ultimately, while some may argue that such complications surrounding the feminine have since been resolved, our modern society is still struggling with deconstructing the image of the good, domestic, benevolent woman as an ideal. In other words, how truly progressive are we as a “modern” society?

The Drawing from Life exhibit will be in the Kelowna Art Gallery until January 22, 2017. Admission is free on Thursdays, and general admission is $5 otherwise. Support these local artists by making a point to visit the exhibit this winter.

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