Wylie: Two avenues of art, in retrospect

Works produced in printmaking during Landon Mackenzie's undergraduate years;then paint on huge canvases.

Landon Mackenzie’s Blue Stairs.

Landon Mackenzie’s Blue Stairs.

As we get older we start to notice that time is passing more quickly. A year passes in a flash and it used to be a really long interval. There’s nothing to be done about this, and we are told to just be in the moment, and enjoy life on the fly.

This unsettling sensation may be particularly strong when visiting the current exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery, which is a 40-year solo survey of works on paper created by Vancouver-based artist Landon Mackenzie.

One quick swing through the gallery space, and you can see what a selection from 40 years of an artist’s production looks like. It is inspiring, but also sobering, because time is flying by and we may worry that our accomplishments are going to be meagre, especially in contrast with Mackenzie’s tremendous output.

Mackenzie at KAG

The show begins with a few works by other artists that were influential on her as a child growing up in Toronto. Then there is a watercolour inspired by the Eloise children’s books that the artist painted when she was 14.

The show then picks up the pace, and we see works produced in printmaking during her undergraduate years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, and her MFA years, at Concordia University in Montreal.

It was after this degree, while living and working in Montreal in the 1980s, that the artist turned her hand to painting. Her famous Lost River Series became an overnight national success, and Mackenzie is now widely known for her huge canvases, produced using numerous layers of paint, and sometimes including text. During the 1990s Mackenzie focused largely on these massive canvases and worked on small sheets of paper only when travelling.

Once she began participating in international residencies, her works on paper were larger in scale and more numerous. In the current show we have works from residencies in Paris (2009), Berlin (2007 and 2013) and Banff (2012). Taken as a whole, Mackenzie’s paper works can be seen as a journey undertaken in tandem with her large paintings, thus, the exhibition’s title Parallel Journey.

Mackenzie produces work that has layers of meaning, which is in keeping with her working method of creating imagery by layering her media onto her support (itself a carryover from her early years as a printmaker).

She has long been fascinated by maps, first those of explorers opening up Western Canada to colonization, then maps of cities. She saw parallels between city maps and neural maps, that is, maps or diagrams of the human brain. This interest fed directly into her art, as evidenced in many works in the current exhibition.

Along with the works installed on the walls of the gallery are eight custom-built free-standing vitrines that are filled with unframed works, including a great selection of 40 years of sketchbooks and other artist’s books for visitors to pore over.

The show is accompanied by a thick, full-colour book, with texts by four authors. It looks and feels like an artist’s book, with long segments that are images only, reading as visual essays. This was published for the Kelowna Art Gallery by Black Dog Publishing in London, England.

Landon Mackenzie: Parallel Journey will remain on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Jan, 17. After that it will begin a national tour.


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