Wylie: Earth for other worlds in massive scale

Douglas Walker’s moon, whale and composite human face…would be good choices to tell others something about life on Earth.

Douglas Walker

Douglas Walker

If the planet Earth were threatened with destruction and you could choose three images to load into a time capsule and send into outer space, what would they be?

This was not artist Douglas Walker’s assignment, but his moon, whale and composite human face in his current show at the Kelowna Art Gallery would be good choices to tell others something about life on Earth: We have oceans that support gigantic life forms, a multitude of races and genders of people and we all look up at the single moon shining in the night sky.

Douglas Walker is from Ontario, studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design and lives and works in Toronto. He generally has worked in an easel-sized format in both photographic and painting mediums, but a few years ago, when he entered discussions about a touring show, he had the idea to work on a massive scale, dealing with the architectural spaces of each host gallery.

The catalogue that accompanies the show was published in time for the Kelowna incarnation of Other Worlds and contains many photographs of its previous installations in other galleries.

When visitors walk into the Kelowna Art Gallery’s Treadgold/Bullock Gallery this summer they are confronted with and absorbed by a work of art that spans the 80-foot-long wall facing them.

The image of the sperm whale in the centre approaches the actual length of the smallest of these creatures as they live in the wild.

Not every artist can handle the challenges of working in such gigantic scale, but Walker has pulled it off with elan. As with medieval mosaics, the physicality and solidity of the wall seems to dissolve and we experience the varied dark blues in his piece as deep outer space, or the depths of the ocean.

Walker has limited his palette to blue and white for several years now, but this is the first time he has created colossal works. He has invented and developed his own recipes for glazes and other concoctions that cause his blue paints to separate and crackle, calling to mind ceramic traditions, both of Holland and Asia. But a viewer does not have to know anything about this aspect to appreciate the work.

Other Worlds calls for a leisurely look and a slow read. Visitors who spend time will be rewarded as they look at the details in the work, for example, the ring-like shapes that adorn the whale—reminiscent of barnacles, or perhaps a neural network. We begin to feel our smallness, the short time span of our brief lives and develop an awareness of a deep time that almost seems to be from another dimension.

Douglas Walker: Other Worlds will be on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Sept. 29. It was organized collaboratively by the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario; the Dalhousie University Gallery in Halifax and the Kelowna Art Gallery. Its curators are Peter Dykhuis, at Dalhousie and independent Ontario-based curator, Corrina Ghaznavi.

Kelowna Capital News