Andrea Kastner, "No Home Like Place," 2017
oil on canvas, 36" x 60”
Imagine a city without inhabitants. No stray dogs prowl through back alleys, no weeds sprout through cracks in the concrete. Such unsettling urban vistas are the subject of Andrea Kastner’s show, Shadow Cities, on view at Edmonton’s Scott Gallery until April 29. With such dystopian images, you might think visitors would take one look and turn on their heels. Yet Kastner’s oil paintings, with soft blues or vibrant reds scattered like jewels in the rubble, offer unexpected pleasure. Something new, mysterious and insightful is hidden within this old-fashioned medium.
Kastner knows the urban landscape intimately. She has lived in five Canadian cities, including her hometown of Montreal, and Edmonton, where she received her Master’s degree in visual arts in 2012 from the University of Alberta. She is not drawn to popular sites where tourists gather. Instead, she explores cities from the inside out. “I have always been drawn to neglected, in-between places and things: alleyways, backyards, garbage, construction and demolition sites,” she says. “There is something vulnerable and luminous about the rubble of everyday life.”
She happened to walk past one such numinous, nearly spiritual, site just down the street from her current home in Iowa City: a house with teal walls precariously uprooted from its foundations. The owners took the care and bewildering expense to pour in a brand new basement for their crumbling home. “There is a sense of this building being unmoored, rootless, somewhat frayed and battered, and yet precious enough as a home for the owners to want to save it,” says Kastner. Many of us would quickly dismiss this scene as just another ugly, detritus-filled eyesore. But when Kastner viewed it more carefully, it became an allegorical self-portrait. “The poetry of this image resonated with something deep within me, as my family had just been uprooted once again for a move to a new city,” says Kastner, who titled the painting Home Again.
Andrea Kastner, "Home Again," 2017
oil on canvas, 22" x 26”
It’s hard to pinpoint what takes Kastner’s art beyond the “romance of the back alley” genre and into the deeply psychological, even psychoanalytic, territory of urban painting by artists such as Edward Hopper. Perhaps it’s the silence, the distilled essence, or the weightiness of the moment that permeates her scenes. It’s as if a great cataclysm has eradicated most sentient life and left only discarded wrappings, forgotten scraps and debris – the ghostly remnants of our busy lives. Kastner calls the paintings “half-written poems to the shadow city, the secrets and the ghosts in crumbling and neglected objects.” But, more than that, their discarded, partly hidden traces of human activity cast a penetrating glance not only into the life of a city, but into the enigma of the human psyche.
Andrea Kastner, "Today For Tomorrow," 2017
oil on canvas, 10" x 10”