Night Gallery is proud to present Objects of Interest, an exhibition of new paintings by the Winnipeg-based artist Wanda Koop. This is Koop’s fourth solo show with the gallery.
In the therapeutic technique of biofeedback, electrical pads are attached to patients’ skin to chart their brain activity as they respond to meditational prompts. One of these prompts entails imagining one’s body in a relaxing space, simultaneously from inside this body and from far above it. I was reminded of this technique as painter Wanda Koop described her artistic process to me this past November. Prior to starting a large-scale painting—and after months of research during which she makes dozens of small sketches—the artist lies down and visualizes the painting as both enormous and tiny enough to hold in one’s hand. She plots the painting’s choreography in her head.
Shuttling between the massive and the micro allows Koop to capture the iconic aspects of her subjects—which have included expansive, crepuscular skylines and ominously anodyne, looming government buildings, as well as prosaic references, to which she lends gravity through close cropping. This tension has shaped her practice from the first ambitious, large-format canvases she made in the early seventies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, where the artist still lives and works. As in biofeedback, Koop’s practice marries systematic precision with the ineffable and dreamlike in order to envision possibilities for repair.
For over four decades, Koop has made deceptively simple paintings. Their spare, graphic compositions belie many layers of highly calculated, sheer washes of color that cause them to hum, and to engulf their viewer. The artist returns again and again to landscape, which she infuses with a deep humanity and concern—both for the vulnerability of the world she loves and its complicated, flawed inhabitants.
The horizon line is a primary character in these paintings. Koop works in recursive series, methodically tracing sight lines until they blur into a single stream when seen in toto, like the continuous ribbon that streams past the windows of a moving car. The photographer Edward Weston was known to complain that he disliked automobiles because their speed made it impossible to get a good look at anything before it disappeared behind you. Koop, by contrast, has fashioned a practice reliant on constant looking while in motion. Beginning in 1974, when she embarked on her first of numerous multi-month road trips across Canada, she has made small sketches while traveling in cars, on planes, and once on an ocean freighter named the Birch Glen. These drawings inform her compositions of hybrid landscapes, which merge elements of multiple scenes. Her finished paintings appear both strikingly specific and from the mind’s eye, as if they appeared out of thin air. As Koop described in a 2011 film about her practice, “I’m not that interested in the surface as a painterly convention. To me it’s much more interesting if it somehow looks like it painted itself.”
In Objects of Interest, Koop presents her new Bouquet and Bullet Proof series for the first time. Her horizon line is bisected in these cruciform compositions, creating crosshairs that suggest a gun’s sight. Floral forms hover around their central shapes. The painter was first moved to insert crosses into her paintings in the early 1990s. She recalls watching newscasts of the Gulf War, which aired cockpit video footage from fighter jets as they bombed their targets from above. It was the first war she could recall in which the American government released such live-action footage to the public. Koop has returned to the shape repeatedly in subsequent years, exploring it both as a cipher of the imagery of increasingly digital warfare and a mirror for the lens of the human eye.
In the Bouquet and Bullet Proof paintings, Koop reimagines the cross once more, this time as an elegiac meditation on her family’s Ukrainian history. Koop folds her journeys and their personal import into all of her paintings; the cruciform pieces on view at Night Gallery were inspired by her 1997 pilgrimage to her family’s homeland to find the grave of her grandmother, who died during the Russian Revolution, after which the artist’s parents fled to Canada. Koop’s inherited, generational trauma has served as a lasting influence on her life and on her work, which frequently circles back to conflict and mourning. The floral motifs serve as tokens of remembrance for her grandmother, as reminders of the fragility of lineage and the place to which one’s heritage is moored.
I’m continually struck by the sight line’s many transformations in Koop’s work, as if the line is, like the artist herself, forever in motion.
Wanda Koop (b. 1951, Vancouver, Canada) is a renowned painter. She has exhibited across Canada and the U.S. as well as in Asia, Europe, and South America. In 2019, The Dallas Museum of Art presented "Concentrations 62: Dreamline," Koop's first major solo museum exhibition in the United States. The National Gallery of Canada mounted a major survey of her work in 2011. Koop has been the recipient of numerous awards, honorary doctorates, and Canadian medals of honor, including the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Canada, in 2006. Her life and work have been the subject of several documentary films. In 1998 she founded Art City, a storefront art centre that brings together contemporary visual artists and inner-city youth to explore the creative process.
Koop will mount a solo exhibition of new work, "Objects of Interest," at Night Gallery, Los Angeles in January 2024.
Wanda’s subsequent solo exhibition, "WHO OWNS THE MOON," will open at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in April of 2024. The artist lives and works in Winnipeg, Canada.