Local artist Brenda Kim Christiansen has an entire forest of wild creatures in her imagination and she has spent much of the last few years slowly letting them out so that they can populate her paintings.
That’s good news for her and it’s great news for viewers in the Peter Robertson Gallery. On the weekend, Christiansen launched her new show called The Premise of Nature at Edmonton’s landmark art destination on the north side of Jasper Avenue as it approaches its apex with 124 Street.
No stranger to lively landscapes, she says that it was high time that she sent in the animals that usually add so much life to such scenes in real life.
“There’s been a lot more of the animal and bird presence creep into the pictures since probably the summertime. I’ve been working with the landscape and always there’s some little aspect of the human presence in that environment. It just felt like I wanted something a little more alive in there,” she emphasized.
Not that humans don’t exhibit signs of life, she qualified, but that human presence in visual art forms are so often used to make conscientious statements about environmental harm or showing what we take from nature and don’t replace. Human nature, according to much contemporary art, shows nature succumbing to human industry and influence.
In Christiansen’s work, at least the rabbits and foxes get their chance to shine, the blue jay, the crow and other birds joining them, too. They act just like they would if one came upon them in real life – some would remain aloof while others would have that look of animal surprise. The deer on the boarded path has that ‘deer in headlights’ expression.
They are all given loving renditions, vivid and true colours as they pose among the blurry, abstract trees.
The fact that they seem posed is no accident. She explained that a lot of the animal references that she used were from taxidermists’ collections.
“Our connection to the landscape is often vague, as city dwellers. I was thinking back on my own experiences as a child growing up. Trips to the museum – to those dioramas with the stuffed animals – was always such a big thrill because that’s how I knew animals. It’s nature once removed but it’s not really true. It’s just giving us these little glimpses of it.”
These images then could practically be called still life studies, but these semantics aren’t necessary. The liveliness, the wildness and the freedom of the creatures remains intact insofar as the paintings are concerned.
“The landscapes are still my own places that I’ve already been. Now I’m incorporating these other elements because that’s the only way I’m going to see those animals most of the time when I go to those places. It’s still me constructing these spaces and now taking it one step further and inhabiting them with the traces of animals.”
She does admit that she can still see rabbits and foxes in and around her St. Albert home but her artistic research will continue in taxidermists’ shops.