The current installation of art placed by the Kelowna Art Gallery at our satellite space at the Kelowna International Airport is a suite of five paintings by Coldstream-based artist Heidi Thompson.
Titled OK Sunshine, the piece is intended to embody the feeling and quality of the spectacular light we enjoy in the Okanagan. The panels are each seven feet tall.
Each one is predominantly but not exclusively yellow in colour, and they are abstract in that nothing else is represented in the works.
But they are not empty; they are rich and full, brimming over with exuberance, life—and light. Be sure to check out the edges of Thompson’s canvases that are covered in thick drips of all sorts of colours of paint—they are the kind of give away or footsteps of her working process, which involved many layers of paint. The notion of portraying light—either white or coloured—in art has a long lineage. It has also long been a metaphor in art for knowledge and for illumination, whether of an intellectual or spiritual nature.
Ancient fresco painting did not lend itself well to depicting light as it was such a matte medium, but once oil-on-panel painting developed in Europe in the late Middle Ages, artists were off to the races, and used real gold leaf to reflect light, usually in the area of halos, for example, where it was intended to represent holiness.
Similarly monks in monasteries created medieval book illuminations and used gold leaf to the same end.
Also in the medieval period in Europe as the craft and design of cathedrals evolved, larger and larger wall areas could be given over to stained glass, with its symbolism of divine light and the notion that worshipers could be morally elevated through its contemplation.
In more recent periods of art history some artists have made the study of light and its effects the major focus of their work.
The Dutch master Vermeer comes to mind, as do the etchings of Rembrandt, the paintings of JMW Turner, and in the 20th century, the American painter Edward Hopper.
Beginning in the late 1940s the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko limited his compositional means to floating bars of colour, meant to be viewed in low light settings so that illumination seemed to emanate from his canvases.
And with the advent of new technologies, light became a medium for contemporary artists working with neon tubing for example, or in the hands of artist James Turrell, working with actual sunlight, and how it transforms a space.
It is also interesting to consider the meanings of the word light, which can be just everyday light, or can refer to knowledge, ideas and spiritual states.
We talk about coming into the light, about having finally seen the light, shedding light on a topic, all referring to knowledge and intelligence. Once viewers pass by Thompson’s paintings and through security, perhaps they will be nudged to muse upon some of these notions.
Thompson was born in Vernon and has been living in Coldstream since 1982, where she has worked as an art educator and illustrator.
She was trained in Europe in the 1970s and ‘80s as a painter.
Thompson is the editor of the award-winning book Recapitulation: A Journey, by Sveva Caetani, who was also a Vernon-based artist.
Thompson’s installation OK Sunshine will be up at the Kelowna airport until Nov. 7.