Wanda Koop | Notre Dame de Paris
2019 | WANDA KOOP
NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS
Sep 12 - Nov 2
NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS
Sep 12 - Nov 2
Opening: Sep 12, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Galerie Division is pleased to present Notre-Dame de Paris, a new exhibition of drawings and paintings by Wanda Koop. In the following interview, the artist discusses her fascination with Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the work it inspired both during her stay in Paris in 1991 and after the fire.
GD: You’ve had a longstanding relationship with Notre-Dame de Paris - how did the original drawings come about?
WK: It’s interesting how those started. I had the Paris Studio from the Canada Council in 1991. I ended up in Paris on my own, alone, for six months. I was living not too far from Notre-Dame – I could see it from where I was staying – and I started making small sketches. Sort of the way I started making the notes for my In Absentia series when I was living in New York City. Just finding a center and going with it. I made a series of tiny books, which I’d carry in my pocket along with a pencil. Wherever I found myself, I would look up and see where Notre-Dame was in relation to that. I filled ten little books that way. And then I started working on glassine – the paper that the flowers are wrapped in in Paris. I made larger drawings in my studio, and for those I started working on creamy paper with India ink. I created over a hundred drawings from those original notes.
GD: What do you think appealed to you about Notre-Dame?
WK: I was going through a very difficult period in my life, and for some reason the cathedral just attracted me. It’s really the heart of Paris. Apart from it being a religious symbol - which I’m not at all attached to – it is absolutely magnificent, architecturally. It allowed me to be centered. I became obsessed with it, actually.
GD: Where were you when you learned the cathedral was burning?
WK: I was in the airport coming from Dallas. I was changing planes. I saw it looking up in a seat on my way home. It was weird because my plane couldn’t land in Minneapolis – President Trump was in the airspace, so we weren’t allowed to land – and then when I was leaving again, we were thwarted by his plane taking off. What a weird moment.
GD: Absolutely… A dark, cultural omen! And given the intervening years since your original sketches, how did you approach the new paintings?
WK: I had a horrible time with it! Initially, when I thought of doing the show, I thought it would be really interesting to do a set of paintings about the fire. So I started my process of taking notes from the original drawings. I tried for weeks, but every time I started to do something it fell flat.
Then, just before I did the final paintings, my partner called up to me that I should watch the news. There was a news flash of Notre-Dame in its present state. I had taken video shots off the television when the cathedral was first burning. And he said there was going to be another CNN report about where the cathedral’s at now. So I turned it on and it was an amazing bit of reportage. I ended up taking quite a few pictures. And in that moment, I realized this was a continuum of how I approached my Green Zone series, another major body of work of mine, responding to something filtered through the lens of media.
The initial drawings were so personal and intimate. I’ve never shown them before because they never seemed to matter in terms of the world. But then came this catastrophic fire… followed by the stunning stillness and devastation of the aftermath. The fragility. It’s just, to me, a metaphor of our fragile being.
So the work was assembled on a personal level, but only later, when the cathedral was burning, did I realize that it was the heart of something bigger. Bigger, even, than religion and the sorts of things we tend to associate with cathedrals.
GD: You’ve used flame imagery fairly consistently throughout your career – what does fire represent in the language of your work?
WK: The skylines in my work often depict a steeple, a dome, and corporate towers. Interfacing those symbols with fires along the river has always been the most powerful metaphor for … existence, really. Political power, religious power, and corporate power are on the horizon of every single city, and in my case the fires originated from growing up along the river and watching the indigenous people make their fires against that backdrop – something they’d been doing since the beginning of time.
GD: This past summer, a tragic fire in your home city of Winnipeg claimed Jarvis Street Studios, and dozens of your fellow artists lost their entire careers’ work. Although Notre-Dame was of a different cultural magnitude, how would you compare the two fires?
WK: Well, strangely, I posted an image of these new Breaking News paintings the day that the Jarvis fire happened. I think I’m feeling this latest fire at a deeper level than Notre-Dame. I was heartbroken with Notre-Dame. But in the case of Jarvis Street, I know almost all of the artists involved. I know all their histories, so I feel their personal losses. For instance, my sister and my best friend are among that group. Eleanor Bond lost all her work, Shawna Dempsey, Lorri Millan, Craig Love – I curated a show of his not that long ago.... beautiful, beautiful painter. Knowing that these people have given their lives to something that gets so little reward monetarily or otherwise, and then to have lost it all – it’s numbing. A lot like a death. It’s a collective mourning. And it’s up to those of us who remember their histories to lend support and keep their memories present. In that light, perhaps my fires can be interpreted as symbols of the artists and individuals who seek to do something greater than themselves for the greater good.