By Rose Ekins, an Ottawa-based curator and arts writer
The 2017 RBC Canadian Painting Competition at the National Gallery of Canada presents fifteen emerging artists selected from across Canada. With one artwork each, the exhibition is a bright milieu of contemporary artists working within, and testing the limits of, the medium of painting across the country.
Since 1999 the Royal Bank of Canada, in partnership with Canadian Art, forms an annual jury who selects fifteen finalists to participate in the competition. The selected works are exhibited in a group show and cash prizes are awarded as per the jury’s choices: $25,000 for the winner, $15,000 for two honourable mentions and $2,500 for the remaining twelve finalists. The works of the top three are acquired into the RBC art collection. Past winners include artists Melanie Authier, Martin Golland, Brian Hunter, Jeremy Hof and Rebecca Brewer.
Not only does the exhibition create a space for fifteen artworks to intermix, but the competition provides a platform for a curatorial collaboration, in this case Rhiannon Vogl, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art has acted as a mentor to Danuta Sierhuis, curatorial assistant at the Gallery. Vogl, who previously held the role of mentee the last time the exhibition was in Ottawa, spoke of the two bouncing ideas off each other and playing with the organization of artworks inside the exhibition space once the works arrived. Corrie Jackson, Associate Curator for RBC’s collection of over 4,500 works of art, said it was a “wonderful experience” working with both curators and the Gallery for the competition’s exhibition. The jurors, Jackson says, comprised of artists and curators, are divided by West, Central and East and given the task to select applicants from their respective areas, plus one international artist juror, included for the first time this year.
The works from the finalists truly “run the gamut,” as Vogl states, from dark to bright, grey to colourful, from representational to abstract, from more traditional to the unconventional, with notable spaces in between. From Ottawa, artists Kizi Spielmann Rose and David Kaarsemaker bring their use of abstracted space and movement – Rose’s full of colour, Kaarsemaker’s firmly monochromatic. While artists such as Tristan Unrau and Cindy Ji Hye Kim play with the figurative, artists Laura Payne and Angela Teng are remarkable standouts for their innovative uses of their medium. Payne’s Enneadec II appears as if a geometric target created with a spectrum of pastel paint swatches, a three-dimensional work inspired by the “post-technological, digital world.” Teng’s work Line Dance (Pink and Black for Mary Heilmann) is deceiving – what appears as thread woven together into a textile is, in fact, acrylic paint “that has been laid out, dried and crocheted” into breton stripes and rectangles of black and light pink. Artist Laura Rokas-Bérubé has created something in between figurative and abstracted, both flat and full of dimension with Paint by Number 7, a self-reflexive work of a hand painting an artwork.
Together, the exhibition is effective in creating a meeting place for exciting painted artwork. With over 600 applicants, the jurors have mostly selected a culturally and artistically diverse group of artists – a group well worth the visit to the Gallery to see. As co-curator Rhiannon Vogl points out, “There’s an edginess in here that maybe you wouldn’t necessarily expect, but there’s also a lot of works that require a lot of visual contemplation.”
The RBC Canadian Painting Competition is on view at the National Gallery of Canada in room B204 from September 1 until October 22, 2017, with winners announced on October 17th.