AGYU
 
 
Landon Mackenzie
1 May – 29 June 1997


The unassailable force of Nature is a persistent motif whose long narrative history exists to this day in the art and literature of Canada. “Nature the Monster,” against whose infinite powers we struggle for our survival–it's a theme from the earliest pages of our colonial history, reinforced in our collective consciousness by the paintings of the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. Few of us wholly subscribe to this notion of the country as some "untamed" wilderness. But in a land where most of the population is confined to a narrow strip along the southern border, where so much of the terrain remains uninhabited, it's hard to deny the wilderness' place within our cultural identity. It's part of our collective consciousness though seldom part of our daily life.

For over 15 years, Landon Mackenzie has been producing paintings which investigate these historic notions of place. In works such as her Lost River series or the recent Saskatchewan Paintings, hers has been a project to reconcile the physical and the psychological territories of our identity. It's an investigation which has taken her across many terrains-geography, history, knowledge, painting-to give voice to the hidden stories that are buried in the wake of dominant narratives and "official" histories.

Mackenzie's Lost River series of the early 1980s positions our mythical notions of the North against the realities of that region. The paintings, with their imaginary landscapes, fragile creatures, and dark fields of "ever-twilight," evoke a space in which we consider the public and private realms of Nature. There are social and environmental issues at play here, issues such as the disruption of the northern ecology by mining and development. The Lost River paintings are at once an allegory about our disturbance of the land, and a manifestation of a personal feeling of loss for that world we've pushed into the realm of legend. That the paintings speak of these concerns without becoming maudlin is a tribute to Mackenzie's deft hand and her works' subtle emotional power.

As the Lost River works describe a fictional territory, so too the Saskatchewan Paintings. Here is landscape painting in its most abstract sense; not so much about the landscape we see as the one we don't. These works address preconceived visions of a province of endless wheat fields and wide-open spaces. Though Saskatchewan is this, it is also other things. And Mackenzie shows us that there is this multiplicity of issues to consider. She does this not by revealing the specific issues per se, but rather by depicting the complexity itself. Nothing is absolutely clear in these paintings; nothing, that is, but the clarity which comes from knowing that the waters are indeed muddy and that to admit otherwise is at best naive and at worst historical hoodwinking. The paintings are vast-like the prairies that inspire them-and nothing else would seem appropriate for such ambitious work.

Almost fifteen years separate the Lost River series from the Saskatchewan Paintings. And during that time Mackenzie has shifted back and forth between figuration and abstraction, text and colour, lightness and depth. Though the two series may seem to anchor opposite ends of the painting spectrum, they are in fact remarkably similar. With the Saskatchewan Paintings, Mackenzie has, in a sense, come full circle. She is back to the lush, stratified surfaces of her early work, to the layering of imagery seen in the Lost River paintings. She is back to the poetic search for fictional territories-and the real ones that inspire them. She is again addressing the pressing need to recover what we've lost or have purposefully buried. For Mackenzie, it has never been so much a conscious scheme as it has been a series of inner urges compelling her repeatedly back to this site-to imaginary places and territories of the mind, where faulty memories and altered truths reside.
Art Gallery of York University | Accolade East Building, 4700 Keele Street | Toronto ON M3J 1P3 | agyu [at] yorku.ca