While Fiona’s work is diverse in style, it is deeply rooted in the practice of painting. Whether working on a wild abstract piece or a delicately rendered portrait, her approach is at once playful and meticulous. Through her painting, Fiona is continually reinventing the way she represents her world, her environment and the places of her imagination.
Bridging the gap between her series of abstract paintings and paintings of artists’ studios, Canadian artist Fiona Ackerman’s Night Driving is an exhibition of site-specific paintings – begun with her documentation of p|m Gallery’s 1518 Dundas West location. Leading from these photographic documents, Ackerman created a series of paintings that flow through the space, connected through the repetition of different motifs that reference her interests in both abstraction and mimetic representation.
Combining colourful gestural brush strokes, repeating angular forms, and hard edge painting in black and white with a stenciled butterfly, the painting Dreams on Zhang Zhou is the first in the series, hanging at the back of the gallery. While the presence of bars and angular forms, ochre lines, and allusions to framing signal the beginning of various motifs throughout the rest of the work, the butterfly in Dreams on Zhang Zhou is the most significant. The butterfly references the Chinese philosopher from the 4th century BC, whose dream of a butterfly prompted the question whether or not it was he, Zhang Zhou, dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly, dreaming that it was Zhang Zhou. Drawn to the story’s ability in sparking the intellectual conversation of what constitutes reality, Ackerman uses it as a philosophical jumping point, for her interest in how creativity, sometimes, accelerates when the body tries to sleep.
Free flowing black lines from left to right, covering three quarters of the small 14”x14” canvas from bottom to top, this high contrast painting sticks out amongst the more larger and complex ones. Peace Like a River was named after Ackerman’s earworm while creating this body of work, singer and songwriter Paul Simon’s Peace Like a River where he sings: “Four in the morning, I woke up from out of my dreams” signaling a pivotal moment of clarity. Selections from this painting flow through most of the other paintings on display, changing form, usually cropped and enlarged, in one instance almost whole and somewhat distorted.
In Night Driving, a red angular form permeates the large white square just right of centre, overlapped by two looped ochre lines. References to Peace Like a River and earlier paintings can be found in the background and foreground – black lines and gestural brushstrokes. This 40”x40” painting, is the exhibition’s namesake. Creating this painting around the halfway point, Night Driving embodies visual references to earlier paintings capturing the flow and acceleration of creativity that Ackerman speaks of in relation to Chinese philosopher Zhang Zhou’s butterfly dream.
Viewed as a whole, this series of paintings reads as a meticulously composed narrative. Moving through the gallery, one is led through a rhythm of interconnected ideas that Ackerman likens to the creative potential of the wandering mind. While each painting in the series is an independent conceptual statement, it also holds place in the collective context of the series; each piece, a marked event on a larger journey.