There is a definite shift in atmosphere upon leaving the wet, rainy outdoors to enter the Nanaimo Art Gallery on the VIU campus. The gallery is always a quiet escape, but there is an additional sense of peace that resonates from this season’s exhibition, brought forward by artist Ann Kipling’s line drawings in “Ann Kipling: The Solitudes of Place.”
Kipling, born in Victoria in 1934, graduated from Vancouver Art School in 1960 and has since become a highly regarded Canadian artist. Her work has been displayed across the country, including in the National Gallery of Canada and the Vancouver Art Gallery. “Ann Kipling: The Solitudes of Place,” originally curated by Darrin Martins and organized and circulated by the Burnaby Art Gallery, opened at the VIU Gallery on Sept. 14 and is curated by VIU Art and Design professor Ellen McCluskey.
The exhibition consists of 43 out of the 141 line-drawings Kipling created throughout 2009. They are displayed in chronological order, spanning from Apr. 13, 2009 to Dec. 3, 2009, and though each piece is inspired by a secluded landscape near Kipling’s home in rural Faulkland, B.C., no two drawings are the same. This concept of total originality is a product of Kipling’s unique approach to capturing the scenery on the page. As McCluskey says, “it’s not about cloud and mountain, it’s about sensory experience.”
McCluskey says Kipling does not set out to replicate landscapes in her art, but that she uses “drawing as a vehicle for observation and investigation,” employing attention to detail to convey a sensory experience of the scene she sees before her. This technique allows Kipling to capture the aspect of place on a variety of levels. From a distance, the pictures look like a series of old fashioned maps, complete with criss-crossing lines and concentrated detail that could be the markings of forests or mountains. Upon closer inspection, certain lines in the drawings resemble natural landmarks but they are not confined to a definition. Instead, Kipling’s lines are, as McCluskey says, a representation of the awareness of place and self in a specific space.
Kipling uses ink, graphite, and coloured pencil in different shades of greens, browns, blacks, and blues upon BFK Rives paper to record her impressions of the natural land around her home. McCluskey says this choice of medium allows Kipling to access the immaterial elements involved in the landscape without overwhelming past the point of meaning. “Drawing is a mode of expression,” McCluskey says, where the “media doesn’t remove the activity and is totally in the artist’s control.”
Kipling’s drawings are completed in one sitting, and this continuous process of uninterrupted focus on a single moment in nature is what allows for the variation of theme and technique in each drawing. Some lines are sharp and concise, centred and layered to create the impression of density and weight. Other drawings are loose and spread out and give off a breezy, light sensation. Many consist of a combination of space and concentration, capturing a turbulent combination of relaxation and tension in setting.
“She’s an artist’s artist,” McCluskey says, adding that those who have studied art are able to truly appreciate the “mindfulness” of Kipling’s work. “To me, it’s like jazz. [Kipling displays] well-orchestrated beauty and facility of mark, it’s like looking at a musical score.”
Beyond the aspects of detail in the lines or the suggested landmarks, each drawing has a distinct energy and sense of motion. The roaming swirls, scribbles, and sketch-marks swell with the kinetic movement Kipling draws from for inspiration. McCluskey says Kipling explores the concept of place in that she engages with the world around her in a distraction-free environment. “The solitude is actual,” McCluskey says. “She’s alone in that space.” This intimate connection to place allows Kipling to recognize and translate natural activity into simple lines we can see on the page. Instead of reproducing scenery, she searches for the soul of the trees and mountains and strives to transcribe what she finds, converting the movement of world around her into interwoven strokes. VIU Fine Arts student Deborah Sears says of Kipling’s work, “I ususally like a lot of white space, but the way she has concentrated and filled white space is meditative.” Kipling’s awareness of atmosphere, paired with her attention to detail, allows her to capture a moment in a specific place in each piece of her artwork.
When standing in the middle of the gallery the walls look like they might be covered in stray pages from an atlas. In a sense, each picture is a map of movement, a documented piece of the world at a point in time, and whether the viewer can recognize landmarks or not the unfailing character of nature is imprinted in every line. The energy Kipling has captured is organic and tranquil, and, as the title suggests, the exhibition radiates a wandering air of peace—the motion of solitude.
The exhibition will be on display in the VIU Gallery (bldg. 330) until Dec. 15. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday 12–4 p.m.