Squinting my eyes as you might do in great effort to make out the details of a sunset, until I can see that the sharp lines and saturated colours of Wanda Koop’s paintings reveal the repeated patterns of a high-rise skyline. Filling both the adjoined spaces of Division and Arsenal Galleries, Koop’s large body of work includes views from her Brooklyn Studio. Stalactites form the sky while stalagmites form the towering buildings. Some of the scenes are so closely cropped that the two components become further abstracted, undeniably resembling the horizontal stripes painted by the Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman. Where the sky and scraper (‘tite’ and ‘mite’) meet, there is no delineating line, only hard, purposeful edges to the planes of colour. The acrylic paint within each space has a cloudy quality composed of translucent layers applied either by wide brush strokes or poured in a sort of Helen Frankenthaler style to bleed the hues together. The effect is dreamlike, a space defined not by symbolism, but by colour and light.
In each of the paintings’ titles Koop lists a new name for the colours produced by her style of application. Some of these descriptive names include ‘mysterious rose grey’, ‘deep sepia – luminous white’, ‘red glow – copper’, and ‘deep grey – mist’. The colour combinations with paint chip names evoke specific times of day or seasonal weather. If we are to appreciate each of these colour combinations and repeated motifs as studies of light or colour, then it is difficult not to draw parallels to Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series (1894). In this series of paintings, as he did with haystacks, Monet painted the cathedral in different lights to explore the expressive capacities of the Impressionist style: to capture a fleeting feeling instead of an exact object. Instead of painting pointed Gothic arches and spires, Koop has chosen a skyward symbol for the nearly religious Capitalism. In Koop’s sky-scape titled “In Absentia (Opalecent Grey Blue)” (2015) the sky and the buildings are nearly the same shade of grey and as the buildings so clearly reflect their surroundings so they become a part of the sky; making it hard to know which way is up or down.
The exhibition title In Absentia named after this body of work means ‘In Absence’, but this absence seems not to be the artist’s or mine. Her paintings seem instead to represent an uninhabitable or rare space where the beauty of New York’s architectural reality is valued above its economic symbolism – or perhaps an ode to ephemeral moments in the mega city’s skyline.
Text and photo: Alice Pelot
*Exhibition information: August 27 – October 8, 2016, Division / Arsenal Gallery, 45 Ernest Avenue, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat 10 – 6 pm.