Kelowna and area residents, as well as visitors to the Okanagan who like painting, will not want to miss the Kelowna Art Gallery’s recently opened exhibition of work by nationally recognized, Ottawa-based artist Carol Wainio. The show comprises 15 works, all painted in the last 10 years, and part of a series concerning the illustrated book.
Wainio began in the early 2000s looking at medieval books of hours, then a few years later moved to illustrated children’s books. The power that book illustrations have for children led her to consider the power of all images, and of the appearance of things in general.
Despite their beginnings with such fairy tales as Puss in Boots, for example, these paintings take a decided turn to the dystopian, as they are set in contemporary times. The opened spread of pages in an illustrated book as a compositional structural device has devolved into a debased portal, set in the middle of a blighted landscape. Sometimes the frames of the opened pages read like third-world shanties, with depicted scraps of corrugated metal stuck on top. Old paintings of animals in nineteenth-century illustration style are randomly stacked, along with bits of trash and abandoned stuffed toys. In some cases there are references to farms producing genetically modified crops, where the discarded plastic footwear of disenfranchised migrant farm workers, and old plastic shopping bags litter the scene.
Unlike many others among our best painters working today, Wainio does not take on the status and tradition of painting as an art form as part of the meaning or exploration of her work. She takes as a given the arsenal and references that painting can draw on, and uses all that depth of tradition as her starting point. Then she builds on this—the way one might plant a garden on an old compost site—to rich effect.
Her skill at the medium itself is unerring, and there is never a false note or weak point in any of her work. It is amazing how Wainio combines wonderful painting technique with dark ruminations on various current world issues with such success—and makes it all seem effortless.
The most satisfying aspects of Wainio’s paintings are their complexity and their intelligence. These are paintings that require a long look before we can feel we have wrung every drop of meaning from them.
Most of the canvases are large in scale—many are 10 feet long—to the point that we have the sensation of stage sets that we could almost walk into.
Despite their sophistication, her paintings are ultimately highly accessible, and it is likely that even children coming through the gallery will be able to make meaning from the imagery as they look at the work.
The exhibition Carol Wainio: The Book is organized and circulated by Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, where it was curated by that gallery’s former director, Diana Nemiroff.
We are very pleased to be one of the host venues for the show as it completes a national tour. The exhibition runs until March 17.
Liz Wylie is the
curator at the Kelowna Art Gallery.