Utopian or dystopian–what’s your interpretation of Kalnin?

In his complex and intriguing mural Oyama-based artist Jim Kalnin has addressed notions about which he feels deep concern.

  • Dec. 29, 2011 6:00 p.m.

Jim Kalnin

In the complex and intriguing mural he has created for the Kelowna Art Gallery’s satellite space at the airport, titled Pulse, Oyama-based artist Jim Kalnin has addressed notions about which he feels deep concern.

Since retiring from teaching art at UBCO in 2009, Kalnin has had more time to travel, go hiking and camping in the Okanagan, and read and think, as well as work on his painting and drawing.

From all this he has gained a heightened awareness of humanity’s life on this single planet upon which we all exist. He wished to address this, along with the theme of travel, as the work is installed in the well-wishing area of the departures section of the Kelowna International Airport.

Visitors will see a 16-foot-long work created with mixed media on sheets of paper that have been installed in a grid, so that the whole work reads like a gigantic whole.

Against a yellow sky, an almost visionary panorama unfolds: Buildings, some of them fantastical; trees and water; and in one area a pouring deluge of white water. The odd human figure has been inserted, including one paddling a canoe in water in front of some skyscrapers.

The whole scene has a post-apocalyptic feeling to it, but it is impossible to know for certain whether Kalnin’s vision is a utopian one or dystopian. Both the power and the vulnerability of nature are depicted, and we as humans must learn to deal with both these aspects if our planet is going to survive and continue to sustain life.

Kalnin uses colour to good effect. Hot colours such as red, orange and yellow, denote areas of intense light or even the impression of fires burning out of control. Cooler colours, particularly blue, are used for the peaceful, calm areas of the composition. The tonal range of the piece is extreme: from the darkest depths of the shadows of tall buildings, for example, to the bright white of the unleashed flood water that gushes from the left of the centre into the central section of the scene.

It is impossible to take in the whole work with one look as it is so long and the elements so varied. Instead we tend to read it from left to right as a narrative that is unfolding.

This is also the direction in which departing passengers at the airport move to go through security. The left to right movement could also give viewers the impression of a journey being taken, forming a parallel to their own imminent trip on an airplane. What does it mean to travel from place to place; can we allow the experience to sensitize us to the earth’s smallness, and our own responsibility for its care?

Kalnin is originally from Manitoba and came to B.C. as a young child with his family. He has lived and travelled in other provinces, eventually settling in the Okanagan in about 1980. He was a fixture for many years teaching at Okanagan College before the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus opened in Kelowna in 2005.

Kalnin was a supportive and inspiring instructor for many people here who have gone on to be artists themselves. We are appreciative of his sensitive response to the Kelowna Art Gallery’s six-month-long commission for the airport space. It is worth a visit. Pulse will be on view until May 7.


Liz Wylie is the

curator at the Kelowna Art Gallery.




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