“She sat in silence and was overwhelmed by serenity.”
“She embraced change.”
“She faced the challenge.”
Each of Whitehorse artist Amber Church’s newest paintings in Yukon Ho at the Yukon Artists @ Work Gallery until Feb. 12 includes one line of text, all of which began with “She.” The texts read something like encouraging affirmations that can be applied to various moments of a more day-to-day life.
Each of the texts is applied in a different way. Sometimes the letters are three-dimensional, or assembled from jewelry with letters in it. Church uses hand-painted un-joined cursive letters in one painting, but mostly the letters are collaged.
Church sets her texts into the context of familiar images, mostly from the gold rush era. “She” is shown rafting down the Miles Canyon, panning gold, flying a floatplane, and doing the can-can.
These paintings reward close observation. Church builds up base layers of collage. You can peer through transparent layers of acrylic colour to a grid of collaged, photocopied photographs. On top of the paint, elaborate repeating patterns in fine black ink, often floral in nature, embellish the surfaces here and there. She also uses image transfer at various layers in the painting process.
Close observation will also allow you to enjoy the inventiveness with which these paintings were created, almost sculpted. Church also constructs logs or rafts out of cardboard, sacks out of bubble wrap and has fabricated a gold pan and gold nuggets from polymer clay.
Stepping back, the mountains are composed of lines of colour. The edges of these shapes are not blended. In combination with the other ways Church uses ink and collaged pattern, as well as the text elements, this flattens her paintings. She does not create an illusion of depth, but one of surface. Perhaps her paintings are meant to be read as stories.
Her use of perspective also does not create the illusion of depth. Her floatplane’s wing occupies an unusual angle. Her female figures are faceless and stylized, reminiscent of storybook illustrations. Church is retelling the Yukon mythic story, mostly from a newcomer’s perspective, but with a female narrator. There is one exception: in “The River,” a possibly First Nations person catches fish in a net at the bottom of the canvas.
In this painting, the white river boat provides a clear focal point and a welcome resting point for the eye among the canvas’s many textures, as it hovers above the birds-eye-view of a Yukon River S-curve. Its text reads, “She felt the past flow through her,” in capitals stamped into leather.
It seems like Yukon Ho is not based so much on historical research to find women who spent time in the Yukon, but rather taking the story and changing the cast. I overheard Church explaining this at the opening. Unfortunately, the show does not include an artist statement, which might lure viewers further into Church’s stories.
Yukon Ho continues at the Yukon Artists @ Work Gallery at 120 Industrial Road in Whitehorse until Feb. 13. The gallery is open every day, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.