Visitors to the Kelowna Art Gallery from now until the end of 2011 are in for a double-header. The two artists featured both exploit the expressive qualities of the graphic medium of drawing, but with entirely different emotional resonances.
Steve Higgins, whose show was featured in last month’s column, ruminates on the built environment and the hopelessness of utopian ideals.
Rose Braun is interested in something much more immediate and personal. The gallery viewer may well feel they are being exposed to a yin/yang polarity of classically male and female sensibilities and concerns.
Braun, who is based in Lake Country, works with charcoal and conté on vellum and paper, as well as on canvas and galvanized steel with paint. There is very little colour in her current exhibition, and this, combined with the show’s title, Requiem, may nudge the viewer into the understanding that her theme is one of grief and mourning.
Colour, especially bright or strong colour, is usually thought of as one of the most expressive elements in a work of visual art. But restricting oneself to black and white can also be an effective way of ramping up the intensity of feeling in a work of art.
It is interesting to consider how it is that an artist transforms and transcends the particular and the specific into works of art that can be universally understood and appreciated. Is it even possible to break down this aspect of art, or is it ineffable and part of its magic?
In the case of Rose Braun, many viewers might suppose that some of the images of young children in the exhibition are based on old family snapshots—the images have that vintage appeal to them.
And most visitors would notice that there are two small children in each image; are these in fact twins being portrayed?
Whatever the specifics of pose or dress, many people seeing these works will easily grasp their sources and content, and perhaps even begin thinking of their own childhood memories, or memories of raising children.
There is also a drawing of a set of bunk beds, standing in inky darkness (created by charcoal) as though remembered in a dream of long ago. But all these images are open to interpretation. They are works of art, not narrative illustrations.
The only element in the exhibition that definitively gives away the show’s theme to the viewer is its accompanying catalogue (free to gallery goers). Viewers who pick up a copy will read that Braun is working through the death of her twin brother two years ago. This information explains the image of a man’s feet (drawn in conté) and of a man’s distorted and spectral face.
We then apprehend the layers of grief and mourning slotted in amongst those of memory and time past, and understand the emotional tenor of the room. This is heavy-hitting work that is dealing with intensely personal and emotional memories.
But, through whatever means or process, there is something here for others in this exhibition, it is not a case of venting or navel gazing. After all, funerary art, and the themes of mourning and loss have a long tradition in the history of art, and the expression in the works is sometimes helpful to people in their own working through of grief.
Rose Braun: Requiem is on at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Jan. 8.
Liz Wylie is the
curator at the Kelowna Art Gallery.