I went up to the opening of a new exhibition at Toronto’s McMichael Gallery today. The exhibition was called You are here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting and it’s on until January 5th, 2014. I recommend you make the trip to see it. It’s a big exhibition, and there’s lots to see. There’s also another exhibition there, by Montreal artist Karine Giboulo whose work is impressive.
The McMichael, just outside of Toronto, is well known as a resting place for work by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. It was founded by late collectors Robert and Signe McMichael, who fell in love with these classic Canadian artworks and began collecting in the 1950s, saving up and paying for them in installments, like a Canadian Herb & Dorothy. They eventually acquired such a significant collection that they donated it – along with their stunning Kleinburg property – to the Province of Ontario. It officially opened to the public in 1966.
But over the years, the McMichael has become known as something of a stodgy establishment. Rarely changing or wavering from their mandate of showing works by the Group, the gallery became like a museum exhibit itself, while museums the world over were (are) modernizing, embracing social media and offshoot initiatives.
Kim Dorland, Untitled (Heavy Beams), 2011. Image: Kdorland.com
Which brings me to this very timely exhibition by Toronto painter Kim Dorland. McMichael chief curator Katerina Atanassova has worked with Dorland to create an intriguing back-and-forth between his contemporary paintings of the Canadian landscape and those of Thomson and the Group.
It’s an amazing, exciting show, and for the most part I think it works.
In one hallway, one side was hung with the Group’s gorgeous, small sketches, with their clear reverence for nature. Across the way, Dorland’s pieces speak to a world in which we dominate nature, where it’s – somewhat worryingly – taken a back seat to the gloss of urban life.
A series of sketches by Thomson and the Group of Seven. Image: VoCA
A series of sketches by Dorland. Image: VoCA
It’s wonderful to see Dorland’s take on the wilderness, with flashes of neon and gobs and gobs of paint. I’ve been watching his work evolve over the past decade and seen him develop his own strong, if occasionally garish style.
Having said that, echoes of Peter Doig (a more sophisticated painter) and Vancouver neo-goth artist (and former Canadian Venice Biennale representative) Steven Shearer where evident throughout the exhibition.
Peter Doig, Canoe Lake, 1997. Image: saatchigallery.com
Steven Shearer, Hoff, 2006. Image: rfc.museum
A close up of a room of studies & inspiration by Kim Dorland. Image: VoCA
A room of studies, inspirations and source material. Image: VoCA
And some of his paintings, interestingly, came across as clear updates of early artists work – like several after the great Emily Carr. One wonders what Carr would have made of Dorland’s work. When you compare the two – as with the sketches – the distinct lack of spiritual reverence in Dorland’s work becomes clear. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
This painting after Thomson’s Woodland Waterfall I found to be really quite successful, like a rock n roll, sexed up version of Thomson’s thoughtful work.
It seems to me that Dorland is continually working toward refining his own clear voice. And with this exhibition, he’s clearly well on his way.