Text by: Mariko Paterson
This predictable life we lead with its so-called linear tendencies and seemingly straightaway pathways are often diverted/interrupted by changes unforeseen. Sometimes so monumental in their physical manifestation such change can present itself as a life-altering moment and single-handedly re-direct the course of, let’s say, an entire nation of people. Perhaps, more often than not, change comes to us in more of an apparitional sense, disguised so cleverly that it permeates our individual lives in the most subtle and unsuspecting of ways…Such thoughts were stirred upon viewing Anne McKenzie’s latest works and subject of Stride Gallery’s latest exhibition, simply entitled Louise.
As a longstanding member of Alberta’s arts community, Anne McKenzie’s devotion to the discipline of painting as well her volunteer contributions to the organization of events such as Art City have made her one Calgary’s most respected members. In addition to commissioned portraits Anne has integrated locally inspired subject matter of the social political sort into her prolific repertoire. It is her other, more intimately painted subject matter though, that quietly demands a second and then a third viewing in order for us to gain more insight into the workings of her mind, as well as our own. For example, a recent studio visit revealed an understandable obsession with the timeless board game Scrabble that resulted in a Mondrian-esque series of works; their format and signature squares slightly softened like a buttery memory of games gone by. Other paintings induced a near-real garden experience as flora and fauna hung so real and ripe within the canvas borders that they, at the very least, could be visually picked. A more focused fascination with specific and individual objects have led to encore appearances in paintings to the point of forming a sort of symbolic vocabulary. Family members and their familial animal offspring do make frequent appearances; but so do clusters of mountain ash berries, objects from childhood nurseries, particular geometric shapes and even sayings that have come to Anne in dream-like states and seem to hover on her canvases somewhere between the subconscious and reality.
The tangible factors of the Louise paintings are just as subtle yet as strong as the aforementioned works in that a distinct sense of time, place and connection with the subject matter projected from each drips heavy with familiarity. Based on a daily walk that Anne, her aging Labrador Retriever, Louise, and the occasional feline accompaniment of Frank, the cat, would take around her distinctive neighborhood, the credible cast of characters and local scenery does much to ground these paintings in immediate accessibility. It is Anne’s commitment to knowing her subject matter thoroughly, from inside to out, that allows her to truly imbue Louise, and every other detail in her painted works for that matter, with an immense depth of intimacy. With true love and dedication to both her chosen medium of paint and careful selection of subject matter she is able to bring to life and fully anthropomorphize her trusty friend and family member Louise. One could stop and not look much beyond the recognizable cat, dog, bush, tree and car combination of objects and quite easily walk on by...or one could start looking, as I did, for more…
A commitment to finding “more” from the Louise paintings is not unlike taking a meandering stroll with Louise, herself. Now at the end of her life, she has gone from romping carefree in open parks as a pup, to being satisfied with the compromised enjoyment of knowing every flower, bush and crack in the sidewalk that her shrunken world of walking around the block can now only afford her. Some of the paintings feature a more lucid Louise, pictured front and center, basking squinty-eyed and almost smiling in a shimmering, ephemeral light. Others place Louise in the shade and wandering off to one side as if a little lonesome and winsome as dogs in their final and forgetful stages can sometimes be. Sniffing her way around the neighborhood and revisiting rock and tree time and time again she takes repeated stock of her life in a silent and sort of “matter-of-fact” dog way. Unhappy Louise is not in these paintings, yet there is heavy sense of tiredness in her lumbering step that calls to attention the monumental feelings that time and change can bring about.
As dramatic as watching weather changes roll in over the prairies can be, so too can contemplating the near stillness of a sky’s changeover from day to night. The lingering minutes between light and dark sometimes seem to stretch out that much longer out here on the prairies what with its open-ended skies. It is that time of day that straddles the moments between dusk and twilight that Anne McKenzie has sought to capture in many of the exhibition works. Not just another pretty backdrop, her fading skies set a rather somber tone for Louise’s last walks. As the diminishing lights and colors extinguish themselves into the horizon of treetops and rooftops, they almost seem to aid or coax Louise into the darkness that is soon to fall on her. Part prop, part accomplice, her skies avoid completely the label of mere background. Instead they help carry the plot and develop the narrative to its final fruition.
So pivotal, as well, are the colors that comprise Anne’s paintings as they set a distinctively contemplative mood for the last and remaining scene of a long and drawn out play. The arrangement of high-keyed purples and subdued blues simultaneously illuminate and envelop Louise like an actor offering up her final soliloquy. Soon the lights will drop and all that will be left of her are the artificial beacons that also led her along her way. The green fluorescents of the neighborhood’s character lamps, the acidic lemon yellows of car headlights and their random glints and gleans off of windows and other reflective surfaces will continue to show the way for others long after the real light has died. Perhaps it is the surreal interchange between restraint and intensity in regards to color and light play that give the Louise paintings a sense of timelessness. For even the hint of light emitted from the single painting that does not contain Louise (anymore) still gives way to a hopeful feeling of eternity and re-embodiment.
It must be said that for all I have inferred visually from Anne’s work, much of our talk centered on the subject of change. While we spoke much of the colors and painted light that permeate her canvases, it was the topic of change and its cyclical relationship with life’s set of revolving mannerisms that saturated our conversation. While the works within the Louise collection emit visually, much of Anne’s thoughts on the subject, she verbally boiled it all down to one simple thought…”Life changes. Everything changes,” said she of all things obviously animate (people and pets) as well as those more stoically silent (plant and tree life). All of her paintings, in one way or another, comment on the ebb and flow of life’s inevitabilities. Observing and painting Louise seemed to capture all of Anne’s reflection on change at once…life and death, the passing of time, the changing of seasons. The toll that time and age takes upon our bodies and minds, the concept of soul, reincarnation and the notion of ‘next’ all find their way into her paintings.
As I shifted my gaze from Anne to her paintings one last time, the final observation that fascinated me most was her ability to transpose upon them a calming sense of quietness and steadying sense of quietude. The “stillness of paint” with its “transportive qualities” that Anne is so attracted to seems to envelop her subject matter like a blanket that she passes on to us for delicate unfurling and contemplation. Still caught up in thoughts of Louise and the latest round of tests that life has to offer, Anne knows not exactly what will present itself to be painted next…What she does know is that it will come to her, as all things do, with time.
Mariko Paterson includes the ceramic arts amongst her list of known talents. She recently returned from the United States to satisfy her creative wants and needs in a gentler fashion.
Anne McKenzie’s devotion to the discipline of painting, as well as her volunteer contributions to the organization of events such as ArtCity, have made her one the Calgary art community’s most respected members. Born in Toronto, Ontario a long time ago, she now lives and works in Calgary, Alberta.