When different cultures collide the results in works of art can be intriguing. Consider the artist in the current exhibition in the Mardell G. Reynolds Gallery at the Kelowna Art Gallery: Wally Dion.
Dion is originally from Saskatoon, where he received his BFA in 2004. Then he attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, finishing in 2013, and moved to Binghampton, New York.
Working in the context of a mash-up of cultures, Dion produces sophisticated work that addresses the issues of living as a First Nations person in the current moment. He explores and mines his own Indigenous heritage and knowledge, while addressing art-smart MFA ideas on neo-formalism, turning the ideas and forms of high modernist abstraction on their heads. It’s pretty complicated stuff, and very beautiful work.
There are eight pieces in the current show, each one a hybrid between painting and sculpture. In his four wall-mounted works in paint Dion seems to be riffing off work by New York School greats such as Frank Stella, but with a bricoleur construction method and aesthetic. To make these pieces he builds three-dimensional wooden structures that act as linear tracks for the pouring of layer upon layer of precisely mixed paints. Dion combines the smaller units into larger structures, maintaining a strictly geometric vocabulary.
In one case Dion sets his components up on a horizontal base formed by a plinth, and then has the layers surge up into space, so that the piece reads a bit like an architectural model. In three wall works he utilizes the medium of coloured paper, cut and layered precisely to form delicate three-dimensional counter-reliefs.
Beginning in 2014, the Kelowna Art Gallery launched our One on One series, which are solo exhibitions curated by an emerging Canadian First Nations curator who selects an emerging Canadian First Nations artist to work with. This year the Gallery worked with Saskatoon-based curator Felicia Gay.
Gay points out about artist Wally Dion in her text in the exhibition’s web-based publication: “Dion’s maps mark a presence to demonstrate the Aboriginal people as present tense, a visual outcry against the silence. Mapping Me In … therefore becomes a strategy, a post-colonial signifier of presence, power and place.”
Certainly Dion does seem to be both negotiating and navigating his way through a strange land, perhaps making maps as he goes, to which the title of the exhibition, Mapping Me In…makes reference.
And yet, after all this, we have the language of art, which some theorists are convinced can be universal, despite the culturally specific meanings of various colours and symbols. A viewer does not need to know anything about the artist Wally Dion to enjoy his craftsmanship, sense of design, and colour in his work. The gallery installation functions a bit like a garden—visitors are welcome to roam around and enjoy the works on their own terms.
Wally Dion: Mapping Me In will be on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Sept. 20.