March 9 – April 28, 2019
A retrospective exhibition is always a fascinating exercise to see where an artist started, where she went, and how she got there. The career of Denise McKay seems to have moved through many different paths, but on closer examination, there is a thread that unites it all.
McKay was raised in rural British Columbia and in the 1960s, after a short teaching career, she found an expressive outlet working with clay. Up until that time she had painted, but the clay experience was much more direct.
Here, two diverging ideas crept into McKay’s functional work. The first was figurative subject matter, where the human form started to appear, first as small faces on bottles and then the bottle forms stated to evolve into standing figures. The second concept was her formal ideas around colour, formed when McKay noticed how glazes would run and pool when fired. McKay wanted to return to painting, but was not willing to give up on her ceramic work. She started to create paintings and ceramics where the glazes on the pots were then transformed into large abstract large canvases. Here she could study formal relationship around colour and form and how they worked on both the two and three dimensional surface.
Each step in the creative path that McKay has taken has deepened her own understanding of what it is that she wants to express. Having moved from craft to art, medium to medium, technical skill to expression, three dimensional to two and back, functional to abstract to figurative, each step has enriched her work. The late metal sculpture can seem like a departure but she has claimed back her figurative past and enhanced it with an expanded knowledge of the expressive nature of colour texture and form.