Invited as artist-in-residence to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Toronto-based artist Kim Dorland seized the opportunity to produce a body of work inspired by the Group of Seven. The subsequent exhibition You are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting curated by Chief Curator Katarina Atanassova, juxtaposes works from the collection by David Milne, Frederick Varley, Tom Thomson and other members of the Group of Seven with Dorland’s works, some of which were created during the residence. Dorland’s paintings of graffitied landscapes, the suburban mundane, and phantasmagoric woods with ghostly inhabitants carry echoes of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. Dorland’s paintings are in numerous collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Sander Collection in Berlin, Germany.
Dorland was named “Artist of the Year” for 2013 by Canada’s National newspaper the Globe & Mail, a sure sign of the recognition he has achieved with shows at Angell Gallery in Toronto and in New York that began in 2007 and most recently with Mike Weiss Gallery in 2013. Kim Dorland’s nature is as urban as it is immersed in states of mind. The portraits, such as those of Tom Thomson, are stumbled, laden heavy with paint, and not likenesses, as we would know them. Dorland’s paintings are a response to life, personal experience and the sources are varied. Dorland is an “in the moment” painter, and his art extends the language of contemporary painting in vivid and controversial ways.
John K. Grande – Kim, it’s great to see your show in Kleinburg at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, a stone’s throw from Tom Thomson’s cabin. Your style is surprising in so many ways, I was wondering what got you into painting?
Kim Dorland – I decided rather abruptly when I was about 17 that I wanted to be a painter. As a kid I was going nowhere fast. I was pretty unmotivated and didn’t have any sense of preparing for the future. I fell in love with my high school sweetheart and started to think about my future more because she was. My mother kicked me out of the house and my girlfriend’s family thankfully took me in. I started looking at different books her family had in her house about the Group of Seven that inspired me. I just decided one day that I wanted to try making paintings and became instantly addicted after that.
Nature is as omnipresent as nature can be in your paintings, yet it feels so urban, even distant. It makes me think of dislocation, disruption. It is as if nature is a kind of backdrop – theatrical and urban – as much as “natural” – for great forces. The composite elements – the trees and the people – all seem tentative…
I think I understand what you’re saying here. My work isn’t really about simply depicting a place. There’s a narrative/psychological component as well. I’ve said before that the woods or nature paintings are a backdrop for other dramas or psychology to take place. Whether this is shown through people occupying the woods or through traces of humanity (graffiti, garbage), the nature I paint is to be seen as a place where things could, are, or have happened. I want to create a sense of unease in my works both narratively and materially.
Nature is definitely here just as it is with one of your contemporaries, Peter Doig’s painting, but I feel the nature you paint is not entirely free. Nature is mediated, transcribed, positioned, nature is a mindscape if you will – just as it was for Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Edvard Munch… a reflection of the constricted society they lived in.
You’ve managed to name two of my influences herew with Edvard Munch and Peter Doig… I admire the psychological tone as well as the emotional charge in Munch’s work and I think Doig is the master of painting mood and psychology with staggering sophistication… I’m not using or depicting nature from a place of comfort. Someone like Tom Thomson was comfortable going into nature and trying to paint what he saw expressively. He would live in the places he was painting, which is very different from my relationship to nature. I basically go in, take what I need and get out…I’m more of a tourist and a voyeur. I feel a healthy respect when I’m out in the woods because it’s literally a place (at least for me) where the wrong move can kill you. I think this comes through in my works.
I keep returning to Norwegian Edvard Munch’s paintings that are very much the paintings of a man on a journey, an angst-ridden but intense and soulful one. Heaven and hell are there in his art (and his mind). That’s what draws us to it. Is art become a way of releasing energy, of transforming feelings and nature, the medium?
I admire Edvard Munch very much, not only for his painting skills, but for the psychological charge he was able to achieve. I have always been quite adept at paint handling, but it wasn’t until I was able to inject the work with emotion and my own story/psychology that I was able to achieve what I was really looking for. So, yes, I would say that art does offer me a form of release.
Some of the paintings adopt caricatures of Canadian nature – and art – man in canoe, even Tom Thomson the icon … and yet the world is a mix of nature and human intervention – even more so in the 21st century. Are you catching the overlap between the urban and natural with an edge that is particularly Canadian – raw meets urban?
I have always been interested in that space – physical and psychological – at the edges of things. Where urban meets nature, where order dissolves into chaos. I grew up in a place like that. We are surrounded by it in Canada. It’s where the most interesting things happen – whether real or imagined, in life or in painting…