For those not from around these parts, the McMichael Canadian Collection is an art gallery in Kleinburg, north of Toronto. It started in the 50s as a private collection, focusing on the works of the Group of Seven painters, and later was donated to the province.
As a side note, whenever I hear or see the name “Group of Seven”, (again for those not from around here, this was a group of painters who made their fame making expressive and colourful landscape paintings back in the 1920s and early 30s), I think of my friend and teacher, the late Ron Bloore, who used to declare, “Canadians paint by numbers.” He was referring to the fact that in our twentieth century cultural history, we had the Group of Seven, as well as a group of early Canadian abstractionists, the Painters Eleven and also a group that wasn’t a group at all, the so-called Regina Five – so-called after Bloore titled a show of their work (which included his paintings), Five from Regina. When the exhibition was picked up by the National Gallery, they became known as the Regina Five. Bloore used to also refer to some of the post-Group of Seven painters as “half-past seven”.
We had not been to McMichael years. Tuffy P heard about the exhibition You Are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting, and suggested we go check it out. We didn’t want to leave our puppy alone for too long, but we figured there would be little traffic today (there wasn’t) and we could drive up, see the work, and get back in a reasonable time.
This is the final week for the Kim Dorland show, so I’m glad we made the effort. From the McMichael website:
With the growth of modern urban life and the rise of abstract art, the practice of painting en plein air—hugely popular at the turn of the twentieth century—fell out of fashion. Over the past few years, however, we have witnessed a slow yet steady resurgence of the painting medium in Canada—both in terms of its presence in the public eye and its appeal to young artists. Toronto-based painter, Kim Dorland, is among those whose work has contributed to the renewed power of the medium.
You Are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting, reflects this shift and pays homage to a century-old tradition as seen through the eyes of a young Canadian artist whose interest in art is similarly rooted in a strong connection to the land. It is structured around two main objectives: to celebrate the tradition of Canadian landscape painting and; to document a process that results in certain familiar outcomes while remaining highly individual to each artist.
Kim Dorland created an ambitious body of work for the exhibition, work of all sizes, and there’s even a “studio wall” crammed with images. It seemed to me that Dorland was struggling to find a way to respond to the hallowed History of the “Group” and Tom Thomson, to find a way in that allowed for a fresh look – without becoming mired in cliche.
Some of these paintings feature the thickest impasto I’ve ever seen on paintings, in some cases a few inches thick, so thick that combating gravity must have been a challenge. I thought some of the paintings really hit the mark, and I found myself responding to them viscerally and also as a painter. Others were less successful in my mind, but I appreciated the painter’s honest explorations.
One room featured a wall full of small paintings by The Group and Mr. Thomson and similarly hung Dorland works on the opposite wall. I thought this was overkill. It wasn’t necessary to hit us over the head with the relationship between Dorland’s work and the historical works.
You are Here may be an uneven exhibition, but still overall I found it rich and expressive and honest and ambitious – and quite fun too. If you get a chance to visit McMichael prior to January 5, this show is well worth going out of your way to see.
How do I begin writing about Karine Giboulo’s work? The show’s title is apt – she creates small strange worlds in various formats, these days mostly sculptural. Her works
remind me of railroad modeling, except her work is infused with social commentary and a whimsical imagination. There is a tremendous amount of detail going on and I felt I would have to visit the exhibition several times to really get my brain around everything going on, especially in the more involved pieces. Unfortunately the photos on the McMichael website don’t really show the scope of her strange dioramas, some of which are huge and extensive.
Giboulo doesn’t shy away from difficult themes. Included in the exhibition, for instance, is a piece about residential schools and another about an Asian factory experience. Her worlds also include stark juxtapostions between rich and poor.
I didn’t expect the tough content coming from work that has a certain “doll-house” feel about it, but once I caught a hint of what she was doing, Giboulo’s work pulled me right in, and kept me there as I realized how extensive her little worlds really were.
This is an unusual exhibition, highly imaginative and socially charged, and exceptionally well modeled. There’s still plenty of time to see the show – it’s on at McMichael until January 26.
I highly recommend both exhibitions.