Douglas Udell Gallery, Vancouver
October 25 to November 8, 2008
By Liz Wylie
Although it initially seems straightforward enough, Ann Kipling’s work is complex and contradictory. Her drawings are at once beautiful, rich and sophisticated, yet also direct, uncomplicated and genuine. They are modest, yet ambitious, focused, but also universal. And though they are executed in traditional media — usually pencil on paper, sometimes with watercolour added, sometimes in ink — they push the limits of the drawing medium hard into the realm of filmic art. For, added to the usual means and vocabulary of drawing, is the notion of duration.
Looking at a Kipling landscape, your gaze roves over the surface of the skeins and nexuses of energized lines. In some cases you might feel airborne, and your eyes may dip and soar, as though you were flying over the scene. As you shift your head to the left or right, more information is added, and on further looking, it may seem as though you can see the wind moving through the grasses and weeds, and the shadows of clouds passing over these fluctuating masses. How much time has passed since you began looking? All is in flux, pulsating, growing, and dying, before our eyes.
None of this is easy — we work to decode, decipher, fighting a fear we will get lost in the maze of drawn lines. But if we the viewers are challenged, what was it like to be the artist creating this work? In fact, each of Kipling’s works is performative in that each is completed in one intact sitting, never reworked or added to. Her working method took years to develop and perfect, and her keen intelligence is evident in the results.
The specifics of Kipling’s practice and life decisions read like a veritable recipe for obscurity: be a female and a loner (not part of a school, movement, or “ism”), produce work only on paper, and in modest scale, live in the middle of nowhere, and work in a manner that does not photograph well or reproduce in print at all easily. Yet Kipling has achieved a modicum of national recognition and a following for her distinctive and unusual drawings. Despite her venerable status, there is nothing of the grand dame about the artist or her art.
Now aged 74, she still works every day, in good weather out of doors, hiking with her kit and drawing board up a hill to survey the fields and forest around and below her. It is not new or unusual for an artist to put down roots in a specific place, and to work from observation of the details of that locale over a period of years – Kipling has lived in rural seclusion in BC’s interior, about midway between Vernon and Kamloops for 32 years now. I think that in many cases, this circumstance is not decided upon by a love of place, but more to avoid the disruptions in work that a move somewhere else would engender.
The specifics of the place are mere incidentals, and the important, vital aspect is the artist’s experience there, an excitement about the means they have developed to render the visual translation of the observed natural environment onto the page.