Super-sized at Union Gallery

Toronto based artist Kate Wilson brings her magic lens to Kingston with Curious Lights

Wilson includes a wide range of visual references in her work.
Image supplied by: Supplied
Wilson includes a wide range of visual references in her work.

Picture Tom Cruise’s masked venture through a strobing night club in Vanilla Sky. If you haven’t seen the film, the scene is overwhelmed with a bizarre haze that blurs any semblance of reality.

Kate Wilson’s artwork is made of similarly strange tones—the stuff of lucid dreams. Over the past two decades the paintings and drawings of the Toronto artist have tangled familiar images with her dark, socially-charged imagination. Her creations are warped depictions of reality. Wilson’s work is quite abstract, but the consistent botanical and molecular imagery and subtle pop culture references allow viewers to find connection with her work. The enchanting dreamlands she creates have captured the attention of an international audience and have won her many national awards.

Curious Lights is no exception to Wilson’s magic artistry. The large scale installation, in Union Gallery’s main space until the end of October, is an amalgam of rural scenes painted directly onto the gallery’s stark walls in rich black calligraphy.

A thick tree trunk surrounded by doodled flowers on one wall floats independently of a barren tundra on the other. They are contained architectures, each piece with its own delicacy like dandelion seeds in August.

The exhibition was crafted with such honest creativity that it almost seems like the product of a stream of consciousness exercise. Yet in actuality, Wilson slaves through many preliminary stages before anything is done on location. Before she set her paintbrush to the walls of Union, hundreds of drafts were completed. During that process, Wilson transferred her work back and forth between computer generation and hand drawings then printed and reprinted them until she was happy with the design. Finally, they were painted onto the walls of the exhibition space.

According to Wilson, the temporary nature of her work in the exhibit shows the impermanence of the environments we live in—a reality that she feels is overlooked all too often.The exhibit is more utopic than much of Wilson’s earlier work, a little less Cameron Crowe and a little more James Cameron perhaps.

While her earlier work is often very dark, in Curious Lights, each piece calls back to a simpler age in a playful manner. Whimsical brush strokes are carefully textured in a way that creates a soothing and organic sense of movement. This texture has a trancelike effect on its audience that captures people within her work.

The longer you stay engaged the more of her intricacies become apparent. Over time, minuscule detailing comes into plain focus and the untouched lands begin to reveal signs of inhabitance. A tiny hut nestled in a tree branch and an igloo on the tundra terrain may go unnoticed, but it livens the piece. You’d almost expect to see a tiny Avatar character wander out onto the scene and start smelling flowers.

Curious Lights evokes inquisition and altered perception through the magical lens Wilson uses to view the world. Her work calls attention to, “overlooked parts of our built environment while subtly altering the viewer’s experience of space.” It is relaxing, captivating, strange and beautiful.

Curious Lights is showing in the main space of Union Gallery until Oct. 23. An artist talk will take place on Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. with a reception to follow.

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