Jill Price, Leslie Putnam, Morag Webster & Kim Wilkie – Unsettling Nature

Garage Gallery Benmiller
1 June to 29 September 2019

 

Leslie Putnam Pods 2019 Variations roving, beeswax, spices

How fragile is the nature around us. Walking through the woods to reach the Garage Gallery, I was taken with the carpet of white (and a few pink) trilliums, delicate flowers too rarely seen. They stopped me for a moment of marvel. Looking up around them at the trees there was a different story, highlighted by interventions that draw attention to loss. Too many trees marked only by stumps and red markers.

Morag Webster Ash becoming Emerald Ash Bore Variable size 11’ X 5 1/2’ Ash bark & wood, waterbased paint/mixed media

I had left the road and entered these woods following a sign pointing towards a laneway. I could not yet see the house or gallery that would eventually appear in a clearing. It was a short walk, with frequent stops to decode the forest installations. In the midst of the standing trees and those stumps I was surprised by an unexpected vision: part of a tree trunk lying on its side on a support of leg-like extrusions. It glistened with a coat of brilliant metallic green colour. This dead tree glowed like a jewel and made me think of some sort of insect.

Kim Wilkie Monumental Stakes with Ash Stump, #24 of 39 Spruce Wood Cut 4’ L X 2”W X 2D” with a tapered bottom with water-based marking paint

With these interventions, artists Kim Wilkie and Morag Webster comment on the deadly acts of the emerald ash borer beetle. Wilkie takes note of the number of ash trees killed throughout the region, marking each loss on her property and beyond with red-tipped wooden stakes (39 Monumental Stakes for the Fallen Ash Trees). Webster works with the “beautiful yet deadly” appearance of the insects and the patterns they leave in the wood. (Emerald Markings)

Morag Webster Morag Webster
Emerald Markings #3,
48”h X 12”d,
Ash & spruce wood, waterbased paint/mixed media. 

Often in woods there are dead trees fallen, and of course piles of dead leaves among the living. Here, this visible witnessing of threats to living trees evoked a more intense response in me, an even stronger awareness of the contrasts between the vibrant movements of the trees moving in breezes and the stillness of those wood markers with their blood-red tips. It was a visceral reminder of our loss of three huge beech trees by our home, devastated by another insect causing beech bark disease. I miss that huge canopy of green and the squirrels and birds who lived in it.

Jill Price Fleet 2019, 1 of 7 sail-like forms. Variant, Tyvek paper, brass grommets, reclaimed rope, trees, soil, sun, rain, wind, clouds.

Continuing through the woods I found a different intervention that engaged the trees through the placement of sheets of paper. It is a challenge to describe these sheets that appear almost like small triangular hammocks hung between two or three trees. They capture shadows of moving leaves and branches as though replicating a screen with a moving image like a film. Artist Jill Price calls this work Fleet, and comments in her statement on the idea of sails and navigation by the stars, referencing the migration of non-indigenous species.

The strength of Fleet is the way the work focuses our awareness on the life of trees, of the woods. We look and listen more intently. In a way, it also suggests the delicacy of this life. The paper triangles are secured with brass grommets and rope that makes the whole seem quite secure. But still, this is paper and in this environment how long could it last?

Jill Price Detail, Hopeful Shadows, 2019 15 cm X 15 cm, graphite & watercolour on cotton rag paper

When I finished the walk through the woods and arrived at the Garage Gallery, I found Price’s wall piece Hopeful Shadows that brings the woods’ experience inside.

Jill Price Hopeful Shadows, 2019 Wall installation 39 pieces, each -15 cm X 15 cm, graphite & watercolour on cotton rag paper

The artist has arranged a series of 15 cm paper squares each with tracings of leaves in graphite and watercolour. They connect with the active shadows we saw in the Fleet installation. Here Price cuts out parts of the tracings and bends them forward so that we have the sense of these very shadows creating their own shadows on the wall and on the paper. I found this wall mesmerizing. Price has activated the interior as she did the movement and light in nature.

Leslie Putnam Untitled (gooseberries) 2016-17 Incised paper with applied pigment 70 cm X 55 cm x 5cm framed

The gallery is alight with art that speaks to nature. Leslie Putnam has created the most delicate framed pieces using incised paper and pigment. The six works reference fruits produced by plants such as gooseberries, melons or walnuts. Putnam works with pale tints while emphasizing texture that she creates through the incised work with some pale colour. The sense of texture and three dimensions is surprising. The centred design seems so simple, but there is a wealth of information in each touch. These pieces glow as though lit from within. I spent time looking closely and marveling at the details.

The gallery is alight with art that speaks to nature. Leslie Putnam has created the most delicate framed pieces using incised paper and pigment. The six works reference fruits produced by plants such as gooseberries, melons or walnuts. Putnam works with pale tints while emphasizing texture that she creates through the incised work with some pale colour. The sense of texture and three dimensions is surprising. The centred design seems so simple, but there is a wealth of information in each touch. These pieces glow as though lit from within. I spent time looking closely and marveling at the details.

Kim Wilkie June 14th, 2018. Under Cedars at the Maitland River’s Edge, Home. 24 X 24 inches Acrylic polymer & acrylic paint with twigs & roots from cedar branches

Kim Wilkie’s landscapes appear to dance with excitement. They thrust their elements into our space, and I felt their appeal to my sense of touch as well as sight. In the last few years Wilkie has been expanding her use of materials with landscape references. June 14th, 2018. Under Cedars at the Maitland River’s Edge, Home reflects her connection this evocative natural setting. She has worked with twigs and roots from cedar branches from the spring runoff, plus stones, soil and pieces of flowering Ninebark. These she attached to handmade canvassed board painted with acrylic. The decisions she makes about these materials — placement, colour, texture – is sure and convincing.

In the woods and in the gallery space, these four artists connect with current concerns about the state of the natural environment that touch us all. The works also highlight the intense beauty that persists around us, making its loss all the more devastating.

Review by Madeline Lennon, Professor Emerita, Visual Arts, Western University

Images published with the permission of the artists.

At the Garage Gallery is located at 80602 Benmiller Line, Benmiller ON Canada

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