All posts by Jim Russell

Artist Profile – Kim Dorland


-Born Wainwright, AB
-39 years old, lives with childhood sweetheart who is also his muse and has direct input into his work. His mother was 17 years old when Kim was born. He was kicked out of the house when he was 16, and his girlfriend’s parents took him into their Red Deer, Alta. home, where paintings in a coffee-table book caught his eye. “I was a go-nowhere kid,” he says. But “the aggression and the elegance of the brushwork in those paintings,” was enough to make him want to go to art school where one painting speaks to another, where there is a larger dialogue happening.
-He says her mother got a new boyfriend that she thought he would save her life, and then she went totally nuts. He moved in with his girlfriend at the time and she “saved him.” Dorland says he hasn’t spoken to his mother for 20 years. His father, whom he also hadn’t seen for a long time, died four years ago. His girlfriend, Lori Seymour, is now his wife. Feels if he was a photorealist painter he would have a lot more money. But has to pursue fascination of material and how he can make it work physically.
-Was raised in the low income area of town, it wasn’t unusual to see a drunken fist-fight and then stumble across an elk or a deer a block or two away. He found that the real and the romantic crossed paths quite often. He combines the idea of “North” as a romantic construct and “North” as the real space where he grew up “white trash” in various small towns.
-Now lives and works in Toronto, studio on Dufferin, sells work on Ossington Ave.
– Attended Emily Carr Institute of Art for Bachelor of Fine Art, completed Masters of Art at York University
– Reviews from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. His work is included in public and private collections
-In 2005, Dorland painted The Loner, a portrait of a kid in a heavy metal T-shirt standing behind a tree in an infinite landscape. It was then he realized he says, that “I wanted to tell my own story.”
-Says that being a distinctly Canadian painter seems to have served him well. The more “Canadian” his work is, the better it is received.
-Loves Van Gogh and Tom Thomson, named one of his kids Thomson

Paint Process and Methods

-Works principally in oil on large scale canvases, from 6’ x 8’ feet, up to 18’ x 8’ for his French River piece. He likes the idea of huge, aggressive paintings, because they are relatively rare in Canada.
-Paints in extreme style with 4 or 5 inches of paint sometimes using it like colored clay, often in a thick impasto style verging on sculpture. He has many paintings that fail. He then recycles huge blobs from a multi-coloured mound of oil paint, most of it recycled from pieces that he’d decided to scrap and scrape. The paint is often on so thick that he uses screws as a kind of armature, and is not afraid to show them as part of the work, consistent with his brutally honest style.
-Bold, expressionistic paint colors often with a fluorescent ground.
– Wants to push the dimensionality and materiality of painting literally bringing parts of the surface forward with thicker paint. He finds that painting in a “realistic” way looks weird. “I want the paint to become like the flesh, for the paint to carry your presence. And it generally doesn’t work until the paint becomes – the only word I can think of is “explicit.” And I don’t mean explicit in a sexual way – although there might even be that in it.”
-Has a messy working style, often moving between many paintings in various stages of completion, hanging from walls, leaning on walls, leaning against other paintings, lying face up on horizontal surfaces.
– Completed some recent work on taxidermied animals and animal heads; a nail-studded bear strung with bloody-looking strands of painted yarn side-by-side pair of moose heads, one painted, one not. The taxidermy figures are dipped in paint and sprinkled in glitter which diffuses any predatory quality that these animals might otherwise have had.
– There is a long history of the muse in painting. He says portraits came very naturally for him. He has done many Portraits of his wife where he expresses his relationship to her with heavy material. He claims that a portrait is not done until it represents your presence.
-He says his use of paint is not violent; it’s just the way he moves the paint around.
Dorland and Canadian Landscape Tradition
-The image of Canadian wilderness as a subject is an adventure for generations of artists who respond to it in paint, each trip leaves a deep spiritual impression on the artists. In early 1900s modern artists carried their painting gear with them, and acquired the skills necessary to endure extreme weather conditions and the harsh environment of the North. Artists like Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven became experienced guides and canoeists—skillful in setting up camp and travelling long distances.
– Critics enjoy the refreshed dialogue he has with the Canadian masters. “He is like Tom Thomson on acid,” referring to Dorland’s singular technique of layering his canvases with fluorescent hues, densely applied paint, airbrush, acrylic, and aggressive sculptural brushwork that at times incorporate such elements as glass, glitter, glue, feathers and wood.
-With the growth of modern urban life and the rise of abstract art, the practice of painting outside fell out of fashion. Dorland’s modern take has contributed to the renewed power of the medium in Canada—both in terms of its presence in the public eye and its appeal to young artists. He wants to show that landscape painting has its place in contemporary art.
-He says, “I’m a slut when it comes to visual culture, especially painting. I use a mess of different approaches and mediums that come together in a really disparate way—the deadness of acrylic, the sheen of spray paint, the density of oil paint. I’ve been asked many times why I use such thick oil paint and my answer is that I want the viewer to recognize they’re looking at a painting. But it’s also a Canadian thing. We love thick paint. Lots of paint piled up on little wood panels depicting heroic landscapes covers our national museum walls. I wanted to find a way to use this regional dialect in my work because it’s problematic and beautiful at the same time. In many of my paintings this landscape is the backdrop for social gatherings, bush parties, or fistfights or lone figures walking in the woods. Other times, the landscape is disrupted by the ghost of an event—beer bottles strewn about, porno magazines littering the forest floor—or by suburbia.”
-Much has been written about how the Group of Seven has inspired Kim Dorland. He says that “to produce something that is just beautiful is to fail, my biggest fear is that paintings to go up and be inert.”
-His contemporary landscape is inspired by outdoor spaces teenagers go to party and leave their mark. It is about our relationships to landscape and to each other and the space they live in
-Much work based on Red Deer Alberta location where he spent formative teenage years, his space and the psychological tension rooted there based on things he witnessed.
-His goal is to convey some kind of truth about space. To make the scene more natural, realistic, and psychologically charged, to include beauty, ugliness and awkwardness.

Kim Dorland Process

-Starts with a stack of images that are interesting to him – takes them himself or finds them on the internet, sometimes uses all of the elements, sometimes not. Often picks a space where something is going to happen, then goes from there. It often ends up quite differently. He wanted to evolve from the “production method” of going to the studio and doing a painting then repeating, so he evolved the super thick paintings, that he would work on for a very long time, then forget them, where the thick impasto would fall off and he would slap it back on. This became part of the process.
-Paintings are left as open ended and not sure they would work. He is a perfectionist and would sit with the paintings when they were really ugly. He found they turned out so well in such an unexpected way that he decided to continue to work that way.
-Dorland has been heavily influenced by those who realized the presence of their subjects with a material explicitness. He is known to pile paint up into sculpture-like outcroppings that protrude eight or nine inches beyond the canvas, Dorland leans toward painters who revel in the textural potential and the substance of paint. He wants a thick material element where certain parts are so thick it’s disconcerting.
-Dorland claims to have always flirted with the idea of beauty, but was compelled to find a way to make it ugly at the same time. Just leaving something beautiful was difficult. A main theme of his is to explore the push and pull between beauty and aggression, so he was adding nasty or ugly elements to his paintings as a cynical act against beauty. He is now making paintings with more poise and composure. He had been using younger irony, cynicism, nostalgia and aggression as fuel. He feels that at some point cynicism runs dry, and now feels that cynicism becomes very tiresome, but beauty never does.
-He is inspired by rather than intimidated by the age of painting and never lost faith that painting has a lot of things to say and can be handed to people who can handle the weight it comes with.
He hopes the viewer enjoys the painting on many different levels -material, color; smell (“stink in an awesome way”). He hopes that viewers are interested beyond the bravado and are interested in the subject and the psychological tone of the work that is intended to grab you and keeps you there.

Kim Dorland Latest Work

Latest show – You Are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting at the McMichael.
The show’s two main objectives:
1. To celebrate the tradition of Canadian landscape painting
2. To document a process that results in certain familiar outcomes while remaining highly individual to each artist.
McMichael location is interesting because it is seen as a tomb of Canadian Art. Previous owners hated contemporary art and have fought legally for the direction of the gallery. The show included a residency that allowed him to pursue what he’s best at: referential work. Some artists say there are no visual precedents for their work, and that it comes to life fully formed. Dorland thinks it is good if you can see the influences in his work.
This places Dorland among Canada’s the nation’s most revered painters. 50 of Dorland’s works were hung alongside canvases from its permanent collection, by Tom Thomson, David Milne, Emily Carr and other top artists contrasting Dorland’s contemporary art that is also rooted in a strong connection to the land. Dorland’s personal quest is to understand nature and the human relationship to it. He included new work specifically for this project during his tenure as Artist-in-Residence. The purpose was to highlight his response to the gallery’s permanent collection of works by Tom Thomson, members of the Group of Seven, David Milne, and Emily Carr, as well as to the McMichael’s natural setting. He is extending the dialogue on the subject of what makes the Canadian wilderness so appealing to generations of artists.
-Dorland is inspired by the pioneers of Canadian landscape painting and never lost faith in the medium or its ability to communicate meaningfully. In his sketch You Are Here (2013), for which the exhibition is titled, Dorland brings the artist back as the focus of our attention in order to observe the human presence in nature.
-His paintings often depict the artist at work, caught in a moment of complete immersion and unity with his surroundings. A good example of this is Dripping Dream (2012) is pervaded by a sense of intensity and danger.
-He reduces forms in nature to strip it down to the bare essentials of art: line, shape, and colour. The forest seems to be closing in on the artist, either to invite him in or to warn him of an ever-present danger, an intense psychological dialogue with his viewer—a key feature of his work.

Kim Dorland – Some Key Influences

He loves Vincent Van Gogh and Tom Thomson and considers them tied for his favorite artist.
-Other Key influences include:

1. Erik Hekel – German Expressionist early 1900’s– Dorland was initially inspired by Hekel’s 2’ x 3’ landscape painting , a panorama with a couple of massed trees and a scarlet and vermilion path that angles off to the horizon. In the lower-right corner is a clunky slab of striated paint which, due to its broad mass, was out of sync with the rest of the surface. He was drawn to its insistent presence (and not so much that it represented anything beyond itself), and its ability to command the rest of the picture plane. He fixed on this clump of pigment as something different – that changed his thinking about physical matter and about how paint can change perception.

2. Tom Thomson – resemblance to post impressionists early 1900’s – a graphic designer turned painter, began as sketches before being expanded into oil paintings at Thomson’s “studio”—an old utility shack with a wood-burning stove on the grounds of the Studio Building an artist’s enclave in Rosedale. Thomson would spend the summers in Algonquin Park as a ranger and fire-fighter and then decamp, during the winter, to Toronto and the Studio Building to work oil sketches made during the summer and fall into full canvases
These artists shared an appreciation for rugged, natural scenery, broad brush strokes and a liberal application of paint, to capture beauty and vibrant colour of the Ontario Similar to the work of European post-impressionists who extended Impressionism continuing to use vivid colours, often thick application of paint, and real-life subject matter, but were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary colour.

3. Van Gogh  – Mid 1800’s post-impressionist– known for rough beauty, emotional honesty, intensity and bold color and aggressive brushwork on many of his landscapes and portraits.

4. Leon Kosoff– British Expressionist painted until fairly recently – Similar to fellow student Frank Auerbach, he evolved a method of painting that entailed the heavy reworking of thick impasto to try to provide a truthful rendering of people and places he knew well, as an expression of his commitment and involvement with the subject. Kossoff has frequently been drawn to landscapes that suggest a state of transition.

5. Frank Auerbach  – German born British, painted until recently –sometimes called expressionist, considered a figurative painter. His work is not concerned with finding a visual equivalent to an emotional or spiritual state that characterized the expressionist movement; rather it deals with the attempt to resolve the experience of being in the world in paint. The role of the artist is to try to impose order upon the chaos of the world and to record that order in the painting. Dorland, like Auerbach, would paint an image and then scrape it, repeating this process time and again, not to create a layering of images, but because he did not like the image and wanted to paint it again. This also indicates that the thick paint in Auerbach’s work, which led to some of Auerbach’s paintings in the 1950s being considered difficult to hang, partly due to their weight.

6. Lucian Freud – German born British(Grandson of Sigmund Freud) – work in portraiture, often nudes using large hogs-hair brushes, with an intense concentration of the texture and colour of flesh with the backgrounds muted, and much thicker paint, including impasto. Psychological penetration highlighting relationship of artist to subject

7. Alex Katz – American figurative artist considered a precursor to the Pop Art movement. His paintings are defined by their flatness of colour and form, their economy of line, and their cool but seductive emotional detachment. He is well known for his large paintings, with bold simplicity and heightened colours.

8. De Kooning – Dutch abstract expressionist –died 15 years ago. Figurative works and the coincidence of figures and abstractions continued well into the 1940s. De Koonings work includes the representational but somewhat geometricized figures, along with numerous untitled abstractions whose biomorphic forms increasingly suggest the presence of figures. There is a connection between Dorland’s depictions of the female form and De Kooning’s, and there is the same sense of abstract violence done to the face and body.

9. Steven Shearer – Current Canadian has the glowing under paint. Went to Emily Carr older than Dorland Shearer’s photography, drawing, painting, and collage tends to focus on youth, alienation, aggression, melancholy, and heavy metal. He is drawn to scrappily resistant forms of expression. He celebrates the anger, aggression and creativity that bubble beneath the surface of polite society. Like other Vancouver artists before him, he revels in the detritus of everyday life, associating discarded objects and degraded media with social outsiders. His work explores the realms of the invisible, the forgotten, and the imperfect. The images he chooses were never intended for mass viewership−often they are private photographs

10. George Baselitz – Part of a group of Neo-Expressionist German artists, focusing on deformation, the power of subject and the vibrancy of the colors. He became famous for his upside-down images. He is seen as a revolutionary painter as he draws the viewer’s attention to his works by making them think and sparking their interest.

11. Peter Doig –  Many of Doig’s paintings are somewhat abstract landscapes, with a number connecting back to the snowy scenes of his childhood in Canada. Doig’s work captures moments of tranquility, which contrast with uneasy dream elements. He uses unusual colour combinations and depicts scenes from unexpected angles, all contributing to give his work a magic realist feel.