Artist Trevor Kiernander works between London and Montreal and exhibits regularly in both cities. His practise explores relationships of space and the problematisation of the figure/ground relationship in painting. WSI caught up with him to discuss his current solo show, ‘Fallen’ at Vitrine Bermondsey Square.
This is the first time you’ve shown in Vitrine’s unique window space. How has this differed to your experiences with more conventional gallery spaces?
The main thing that differed for me with Vitrine’s window space in comparison to a more conventional gallery space is that it is just one wall, and a very long one at that. Space, especially the space in which my work is hung/viewed, is essential to my work, and having to organize all of the work on one surface was an interesting challenge. For the past couple of years, I have been incorporating sculptural elements into my installations, allowing the viewer to be more immersed in the experience, but with Vitrine, I had to look at the flow and compose the space so the paintings could work on their own or as one lengthy work.
There’s a real sense of architectural understanding between the works themselves and their placement in the vitrine. Can you tell us a bit about the spatial relationship between the two?
This was part of the interesting challenge. Alys [Williams, director of Vitrine] had some really great insight into this process as she was familiar with my work, and of course with the space, and we worked the walls, gaps, and window panes to our advantage: creating and breaking up rhythms between the paintings and the space. The Vitrine window is unique in that it separates the viewer from the work, similar to floor borders you might see in a museum, but as it sets up a sense of ‘preciousness’ with the work being behind glass, it also feels like you become part of that space between the painting and the glass. It is hard to explain that.
The paintings on show represent three years of work. Did you originally envisage these pieces as a body of work, or is it the act of showing them together that creates this bond?
I work quite prolifically, working on many paintings at the same time. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or the supplies to get everything down on canvas, but I start as much as I can, or at least get rough ideas down on paper or on my phone. Not every painting I set out to make has a predetermined result in mind, and though I might have a great idea to begin with, it doesn’t make sense on canvas. I still keep these paintings around, whether in my studio where I am working or in storage, as I like to think that the paintings help to inform each other. I might put a painting away for a few months, and through resolving an issue in a different painting, realise what I need to do to add to, or ‘fix’, the older painting. Before you know it, you end up with three years of work, most of which haven’t seen the light outside my studio. I do envisage these pieces to be one body of work; a constant progression, and even though there may be some odd ones out, I think the space in which they are shown transforms them more.
Tell us a bit about your working process. A certain tension between clean geometric forms and bursts of painterly expression exists in your compositions. How do you manage this bond as you work on a piece?
The tension between clean geometric forms and bursts of painterly expression is something, I feel, we experience everyday. For the past thirty-odd years, technology has given us the tools to constantly keep changing and updating, sampling bits and pieces from everything, making new combinations, mixing old and new. I am heavily into music, especially electronic based music starting from early hip-hop and sampling, through to techno and so-on, and along with this cut-up culture in media, fashion, new architecture being dropped into ancient surroundings, everything ends up finding their place. I like to think that my understanding and acceptance of these constant changes and progressions forward allows me to operate these tensions into my work, giving and taking and at just the right moment, with just the right amount, allowing certain elements to play out on their own, whilst strongly controlling others, and letting some accidents stick around and cleaning up those that don’t feel right. In a recent discussion of my work, the anthroposcene (the geological layer around the earth that the human has produced) was talked about in relation to my paintings. Though I had never heard of this term before, it helped to pose some questions for myself. As my process involves a constant collection of imagery from my environment, both actual and digital, and a reconstruction onto the surface of the canvas, my landscapes seem to reflect, or act as a response to, this layer.
You’re currently showing work in London and Canada. What can we expect from you next?
I am represented by Art Mûr in Montréal, and they do a great job of showing my work on a regular basis. Here in London, I was most recently in a painting exhibition with Departure Foundation in Canary Wharf. In June, I am part of an exhibition in Québec, Canada at the Musée des beaux-arts de Mont-Saint-Hilaire. The exhibition, curated by Françoise Sullivan (a painting professor of mine when I studied at Concordia University), will run alongside the exhibition “Borduas, the New York years 1953-1955”. Paul Émile Borduas was an artist and teacher, and was a major activist for the separation of church and state, especially for art, in Quebec. Along with a number of his students, Françoise being one of them, they formed a group known as “Les Automatistes” in the early 1940s, and published the manifesto “Refus Global”. As Borduas was such a strong influence on his students, Françoise felt it was only proper that she would organise works of former students to showcase Borduas’ legacy. Although I won’t be able to make it to Mont-Saint-Hilaire for the exhibition, I am both excited and honoured to be a part of it.
‘Fallen’ runs until 28 May at Vitrine Bermondsey Square, Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN. For more information, visit ww.vitrinegallery.co.uk