Kari Kristensen’s work embraces disparate lines of Canadian and international art history, responding to both through new forms. Printmaking, in spite of sustained practice across geography and cultures, has a quiet platform in contemporary Western art. Kari Kristensen recognizes the growing relevance of artisanal processes and methodical meticulousness in a modern context that both undervalues and yearns for them. She seeks to re-imagine the Canadian Landscape tradition and its persistence in her and our consciousness, most notably in her current series Imagined Landscape.
The series glanced as a whole holds the consistency that lino printmaking so encourages, via bold lines, uniform tone, and crisp contrast against the paper itself. Between pieces Kristensen counterpoints this consistency. The series focus on monochromatic work is varied by key mono-serigraph pieces such as Everything Happens I and II with their subtly more painterly effects and gradations of tone. Even from Everything You Can Imagine Is Real Red Variant I to II there is a decisive shift in perspective lines from frontal to side, underscoring the contrast of red and black between the two.
Harnessing lino printing’s even ink application, combined with the choice of a clean monochrome aesthetic, Kristensen fully embraces the limitations of the medium itself, only to defy them. She draws focus to the print process and even the ink and paper, as their respective dark and light restrict her expression to line. Having forfeited all other devices from hue and texture to brushstroke and blending, Kristensen must coax the eye into seeing shadow, depth, perspective (linear and atmospheric) and reflection she has already declared are not there. The viewer is literally imagining these familiar landscapes, though they are as plain to see as the ink and paper. Our view is always coloured by previous experiences and projections; by giving our eyes the bare minimum of information here, Kristensen invites the full measure of our preconceptions, memories, and nostalgic associations for the Canadian Landscape to play into what we see.
Kristensen’s choice of a distinct locale as subject is a technique not uncommon in landscape art history, whereby the artist selects a symbol of their immediate surroundings to reveal wider universality. This concept was central to the 1950s and 60s London Regionalism movement, whose spirit Kirstensen upholds. Originating in Ontario, and soon compelling artists across Canada, the movement’s core commitment is to the artist’s own life and place, rather than a prescribed metropolitan art scene, being the centre of their work. Growing up outside of London herself, Kristensen was familiar with exploring the world within the region before she studied the concept formally. Her Reflected Landscapes, within her wider series, are particularly attentive to the possibility of details revealing a broader whole. The specificity of low northern light reflected in contrasting planes of mountain surface indicates a particular location. At the same time, the feeling is of a season, a time of day, a temperature, and a memory, familiar to anyone.
Whatever references each viewer brings to this work, from personally known environments to collectively dreamed ones, what Kristensen brings forward through colour and form charges us to look, while what she leaves out charges us to see.