Each of Meghan Hildebrand’s paintings sets out a rich site within which your imagination can roam.
Let me invite you into “The Royal Game of Us,” just inside the doors of the Yukon Arts Centre’s Public Gallery.
Stylized, cut out collaged doglike animals, and possibly ponies, leap across the canvas, legs extended in opposite directions. Gold foil, pop culture clippings and cut out leaf forms nestle into thin layers of paint.
Opaque white paint painted around animal heads to make their shapes pop out. Hildebrand applies this paint somewhat thickly so the brushstrokes are visible and then glazes it back with thin transparent layers, bringing the texture out.
She also uses thinned layers of opaque paint for a smoky look. She uses a rich variety of mark making and pattern, embracing chaotic and random marks, and weaving them together in layers.
If you know just a little bit about how paint goes on, it’s fun to track Hildebrand through her paintings. And if you don’t, I hope this description gives you the beginning of things to look for, so you can.
This show is a “10-year survey of paintings”, and if you’d like to follow Hildebrand’s work in chronological order, head straight ahead once you enter the gallery.
“Smelter” Photo by Meghan Hildebrand
“Smelter” and “Wells Project” from 2001, the year she graduated from the Kootenay School of the arts, use simple, almost abstract compositions that nevertheless refer to an industrial landscape.
“Wells Project”, with its acrylic applied directly onto untreated canvas, contrasts textures. Two rows of irregular black rectangles stagger across the surface, one painted with a very large, dry brush to make broken shapes, the other heavy small black shapes joined by thin lines, broken in two places.
Flamelike crimson crosses this, solid in the centre, and bled out thin from there. It evokes oil wells, pipelines and danger.
In 2003, “Little Honey” plays with more connections, areas of colour divided and connected. This suggestion of circuit boards and cities can be found in many of the other works as well.
Keep going left to right to follow the work in sequence. Sometimes the work leans toward the spare and abstract, sometimes more complex.
In 2011 Hildebrand explores a few different directions. In “The Long Way” a background shape that could be mountains or two people standing close to each other is defined in darker orange by the lighter orange painted around it.
In the foreground, hills, houses, two headed birds, some speaking broken lines. Outlines that look like empty speech balloons turned vertical suggest something at the edge of being said.
“The Long Way” with its hills suggests landscape and depth. In “A Realm for the Taking” the canvas becomes flat, as Hildebrand explores a grid-like quilt strategy.
Then “Centrefold” bursts into an apocalypse of black rain, pink clouds, packs of disembodied toothy black dog heads, crosses, an off colour rainbow, and lightning.
“You Can Get There From Here” by Meghan Hildebrand
I have three quibbles.
In her artist statement Hildebrand concedes that it’s “odd to be presenting a retrospective at the age of thirty-four.” And to be honest, it is.
CARFAC (the Canadian Artists’ Representation organization), defines a retrospective as a show that features more than 10 years of an artist’s production. Generally, a retrospective looks back on an artist’s life work, when they’ve passed through many different styles and modes of investigation.
These paintings display growth and variety. Still, they’re all very much of the same style.
Secondly, we’ve seen two of the pieces in the show at the Arts Centre in displays of recent acquisitions to the Yukon Permanent Collection. One of them was on display in the Community Gallery only this past fall.
I think the show would have done better to show us work we hadn’t seen before.
Finally, the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery, being a public gallery that pays CARFAC fees, generally maintains a clear distinction between gallery programming and art sales.
People interested in buying artworks are directed to the artist. This keeps the gallery free to present work it deems important and interesting without accusations of competition from commercial galleries. “The Royal Game of Us,” that enchanting piece at the show’s entrance, sports a price tag complete with lease plans for one to three years of payments. It seems out of place to me.
All that being said, go enjoy these paintings.
Hildebrand’s show, titled Look at All the Things We’ve Found continues until August 25, with Nunavut’s Culture on Cloth, a fascinating show of wall hangings from Baker Lake, and They Call us Squatters by Alison McCreesh.
Watch upcoming papers for reviews of the other two shows.