A Path Forward

Karen Thomas takes a light-hearted approach to art-making. This makes for a joyful experience for folks who take in her exhibit 2020 Landscape Series: A Path Forward which is currently showing at Arts Underground in Whitehorse.

Spallumcheen Spring

“I don’t want to take anything too seriously, especially as I get older,” Thomas says. “It’s so liberating because you stop worrying about pleasing other people and you allow yourself to just have fun. And I want to keep it playful, and I don’t want to tie myself down to one certain style or expectation of anything – I just want it to keep evolving and have a playful, childlike approach where you can do anything you want. It doesn’t have to have any rhyme or reason to it.”

In spite of the exhibit title, Thomas says that her original intention was not necessarily to create a series of landscapes. The body of work began with Thomas’s desire to experiment with 4’x4’ canvases, and the landscapes emerged from there.
“I don’t usually plan what I do,” Thomas explains. “It just sort of fell into place that there were landscapes coming into the scene in that square format.”

One of the first works that Thomas completed in the series is a scene on the Dempster Highway. Wildflowers and grasses burst from the front of the canvas in myriad colours and shapes. Meanwhile, a grey mountain lurks in the background, and seems to play second fiddle to the floral celebration taking place in the foreground.

Midday Meeting

Many of the paintings are humourous and engaging. A peaceful gathering of wild animals in The Midday Meeting suggests the potential for unity and overcoming differences. An amply-bosomed Sasquatch strolls furtively through Miles Canyon, a rare representation of a female of the elusive creature.

As playful as many of the paintings are, Thomas was impacted by the events of 2020, and her troubled subconscious erupted in unexpected ways in her work. In one large canvas, a small bear stands in a burnt forest peering out at the viewer. Thomas created the painting at the beginning of the pandemic. She was “in a daze” as people around her were doing unusual things like stocking up on toilet paper, making bread at home, and placing hearts in windows. Thomas realized in hindsight that the bewildered bear is a self-portrait. It’s expression is as if to say “Oh my goodness, what’s happening?” Thomas says.

The two final pieces are not paintings, but collages composed of images from previous works from which Thomas cut out what she liked, and discarded the rest. This bold act of repurposing suggests that Thomas refuses to see art as sacred; it can always be destroyed or reused. This also reflects her interest in constantly exploring, even if it means she doesn’t have a recognizable style.
“That’s ok, that’s not something I strive for,” she says, referring to an attributable style. “I want to allow for evolving and changing all the time.”
2020 Landscape Series: A Path Forward will be at Arts Underground in Whitehorse until June 26. You can see more of her work on her website kitdottir.ca and on Instagram @kitdottir.