Kim Dorland’s exhibition Over the Fence runs until October 6 at Skew Gallery
As Alberta continues to grow at an exponential rate, it seems that the last thing Calgary needs is yet another morbid discussion on the evils of growth and what is happening to the landscape. Suburbia, the edges of which are being pushed further and further into the prairies, is vilified and considered beyond banal by urban folk. Either that or it is given a lewd Wisteria Lane or secretive Mr. and Mrs. Smith quality that are romantic at best. It is refreshing to have an artist mount an exhibition that posits that the grass truly is greener over there.
Kim Dorland, born in Wainwright, Alberta, has exhibited his paintings in Milan, Chicago and Los Angeles, but in his new solo exhibition at Skew Gallery, Over the Fence, he appears to have returned to his Albertan roots. He claims it was a recent visit to Medicine Hat that inspired this look at the raw, peaceful moments that still exist in many Albertan suburbs. A young girl on a trampoline, teens swimming in a lake, that tree on the corner, even the graffiti-covered overpass are all treated with a sort of reverence and perhaps with a hint of nostalgia.
It is, in fact, the way that the subjects are treated that infuse them with life and significance, forcing viewers to stand their ground and untangle each scene. Dorland’s paintings mix acrylics, oils and spray paint and leap drastically between the real and the abstract. This often leads to the creation of flattened areas in the composition, causing an ongoing instability between the back and foregrounds of the works. Though each setting is identifiable, portions of the canvases are heavily laden with aggressive tangles of impasto brushstrokes, so much so that the first thing to be noticed upon entering the gallery space is the strong odour of drying oil paint. These thick, coloured mounds adhere to the canvas and often overlap the neon hues highlighting each work. The dazzle of the pure whiteness of Skew Gallery, combined with the sharp colours on the wall, require a few moments to allow the eyes to adjust. After this, the instinct is to decipher what Dorland is trying to accentuate with these unavoidable shades. It soon becomes apparent that they appear throughout each canvas and seem to be a tool used to engage the viewer, demanding a closer look at the overall scene.
With a closer look, the unexceptional nature of the moments chosen by the artist becomes, well, exceptional. In Randy’s Truck, a blue pickup truck is parked outside a house. No further information or a narrative is provided. It is happily open to and, in fact, requires that personal experiences and memories are placed upon it. Each of these works draws attention to what is seen every day, with a particular southern Alberta resonance. The overpass that graduating classes from the 1990s made their marks on is set against a Day-Glo mauve sky. No cars passing, no trains above — just a moment of peace in an imperfect world. Dorland is not presenting the audience with an idyllic vision — suburbia is not his utopia. However, he is choosing to present simple, quiet moments as if to say, “simple, quiet moments do exist.” Do not search the images for critiques or the sense of a seedy underbelly. Instead, uncover the contradictions. In Dorland’s images of suburban realism, one may discover a sense of disappointment or a yearning for simpler times. His paint-handling suggests these simpler times are still out there, and he allows them an exuberance rarely seen on canvas. Though it may seem simplistic, we are all in need of a reminder that beauty does still exist over the fence.