"Painting Studio at Emma Lake."
Kim Dorland’s "Painting Studio at Emma Lake."
Canadian Content, September 10 to October 8, 2009, Skew Gallery, Calgary
BY: Patricia Dawn Robertson
“The more Canadian the work gets, the more international it gets,” says Toronto painter Kim Dorland. On day two of his artist-in-residence gig at the Emma Lake Workshop in northern Saskatchewan, he’s already been at the easel at work on a new series about Tom Thomson. “I was supposed to take the summer off, as I spent the spring in the studio producing 40 paintings, but now I’m feeling re-inspired by Emma Lake,” he adds.
What is it about Tom Thomson that makes Dorland want to paint him? “Apart from being a legend, he’s got such a great talent. I’ve got one piece that has a ghost, a canoe and a lake.”
Dorland does confess he’s concerned that his Canadian subject matter may come across as “too regional” but he’s also keen to maintain his Canadian identity. With a growing profile that includes shows in Italy, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, the artist says it’s important to “hold fast to my roots.” Many of the successful international painters Dorland knows and admires retain personality from their country of origin, so he’s determined to do the same. “Sure I’m a bit tongue-in-cheek with the Thomson series, but there’s also a reverence.”.
Born in Wainwright, Alberta in 1974, Dorland holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and an MFA from York University. He’s married to writer Lori Seymour and the couple has two children. In addition to his Canadiana fascination, a recent portrait series of his wife has taken Dorland’s work in a radical new direction. “After the Bush Party series of paintings resonated so well with people, this other work is more challenging,” he says.
He adds that the Tom Thomson series will also incorporate new technique — layers and layers of paint that obscure the subject’s features. Some viewers can be put-off by abstract portraits that reference Cubism, but Dorland contends that they look real to him. “I’m not done with it until it looks like my wife,” he adds. He applies the same concept to his new Thomson series, working with archival material to create the images. “There are three photos of Thomson. One of them has him with a weird haircut. I find them kinda sinister and ghoulish the longer I look at them. But then, these are all self-portraits, aren’t they?”
When the artist first exhibited R.I.P Tom Thomson, he had an unusual reaction to the work. “People in New York didn’t really get the reference, but Canadians were attentive. ‘Does this mean you are declaring his work over?’ they wanted to know.” Not at all, Dorland says. He’s just exploring the iconic subject matter in his own unique way.
His upcoming show at Calgary’s Skew Gallery represents a kind of “homecoming” for Dorland. The September show coincides with the fifth anniversary of the gallery. “My first ‘real’ show — all in acrylic paint — using the Bush Party theme, space and colours was at Skew,” he says. “I feel like this show is re-visiting that work on a new level.”