Warmth of the Arctic

Kathleen Margaret Graham’s Arctic is pretty in pink at AEAC

Arctic I: Sovereignty in Pink challenges traditional perceptions of the North.
Arctic I: Sovereignty in Pink challenges traditional perceptions of the North.

“Hovering between landscape and abstraction,” the pamphlet reads, “Sovereignty in Pink challenges traditional perceptions of the North as a land of ice and snow.”

Kathleen Margaret Graham’s painting Arctic I: Sovereignty in Pink is currently on display at the Samuel J. Zacks Gallery of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC).

It’s part of a larger exhibition by the same title which includes Arctic-inspired pieces by fellow artists Lucy Qinnuayuak, Alan Collier and Joyce Wieland.

Completed in 1971 and gifted to the AEAC in 1993, the painting is more abstract than landscape.

The Arctic, however, is rather pretty in pink.

Confusion excluded, the combination of acrylic and pastel on canvas makes one feel the unexpected beauty of the Arctic colours while forgetting its bitter climate.

Graham’s inspiration came during her first visit to Cape Dorset in 1971. She spoke, in the pamphlet, of the “strange haunting pink” of low-lying Arctic willow by the airport and the surrounding mountain contours and rock striations.

The painting itself has vibrant pink smoky borders. On the inner portion is a background of mustard yellow decorated by black, red, white and yellow rectangles of variable size, in regular intervals.

It was easier to appreciate the painting having experienced the world with impaired vision, where the colours matter more than the definite shapes of objects.

In contrast, the exhibit’s other pieces are less abstract.

Cape Dorset Inuit graphic artist Qinnuayuak used family history to develop her impressions of her home. Her work Spring Camp depicts animals, a bear pelt and fish left out to dry in the sun, as well as people inside their homes.

Alan Collier’s photographs were taken in 1972 when he travelled as an invited artist on the Canadian Coast Guard’s D’Iberville which was on its regular tour of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

At the time Graham painted Sovereignty in Pink, issues of territorial claims in the North were not new, but they were relevant.

This was especially evident when the Canadian government reinforced authority over Arctic waters after American tanker Manhattan attempted a voyage in the Northwest Passage.

In a spirited display of Canadian patriotism, Joyce Wieland’s “O Canada” (1971) marks the era’s “burgeoning nationalism.” The lithograph shows imprints of Wieland’s lipsticked mouth singing the national anthem.

Interestingly, the shade of lipstick is a passionate pink similar to that in Graham’s Sovereignty in Pink.

The exhibit left a generally welcome feeling of warmth and colour, both of which are too easily forgotten in the dead of winter in southeastern Canada.

The Arctic I exhibition is a must for art lovers dying for a world with at least a little warmth and a lot of vibrant pink.

Arctic I: Sovereignty in Pink can be viewed at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until April 6.

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