Visual manifestations of time passing, of life, age and death; depictions of animal encounters with humans that speak to inevitable deterioration of species whose territory we encroach; depictions of flowers in vases that wilt with loving; these are the mainstay of the explorations that make up Samantha Walrod’s current body of work.
A vanitas is type of still life artwork that uses symbolic objects to remind viewers of the inevitability of their death and the ultimate worthlessness of both worldly pleasures and goods. Popularized by 17th Century Dutch painters, vanitas are akin to memento mori still lifes, wherein symbols such as skulls, extinguished candles and rotting fruit evoke the English translation: “remember that you must die.” Clocks, too, recall the passage of time that leads to death. In traditional vanitas, those worldly pleasures that are worthless in our own mortality are represented symbolically by goods: a book, an instrument, an opulent tapestry. Walrod’s drawings exist as worldly pleasures themselves, withering bouquets, and shadows traveling across the page emphasize the passage of time—their decay, a visual metaphor for loss.
Memory has been at issue for Walrod since 2013. When she explores wildlife, or wilderness encounters, in paintings of solitary animals, the fleeting moment of proximity to the animal is central. The viewer recognizes instantly in these paintings the moment of roadside sightings and quick pull overs or near misses. They are snap shots, tourist pictures; a simple kind of memento. I the vanitas still lifes the attempt to capture the moment persists, but these works are more contemplative, more personal. For years, the flowers, berries, sticks, ‘figures’, have been referred to as diaries: keepers of memory. Today, the funeral bouquet that decays ornamentally brings that figure both closer to the viewer and closer to home, so to speak.
Walrod processes loss, her own grief and understanding of death through her practice. Walrod memorialized death and decay of the funerary bouquet in a series of still lifes. Where the funerary bouquet is, as Walrod says, “working really well to talk about the passage of time… decomposition of the flowers has, in fact, felt like a clock.” The still lifes have also manifested in radial compositions. For Walrod, these four-panel grids relate again to the body, the branches composing a figure, now with a central locus at the intersection of panel edges.
The radial compositions are celebratory. For Walrod, these are bursts of energy and form: quick leaps instead of slow burns. Whereas the others convey the passage of time, in the grid the fragmentation of the subject—its replication and subdivision—serves to enhance the idea that this is a slice, a snapshot; a part.
Where once the subject of Walrod’s painting seemed to be the form of the work itself—asking, how can this painting/collage thing approximate the multifaceted experience of thinking, remembering, feeling? — In her vanitas still lifes, it appears to be more pointedly the time, space, and physical composition of something tangible. Rather than a thought-project applied to a figure, e.g. the subject of collage, explored through the figure of a deer, the subject is now a lived thing: time, loss and decay captured in the image of time worn flowers that we witness just as the artist does.
(Excerpt: “Vanitas” - Laura Ritchie 2018)
Flower Shadow Two, 2018, 55 x 38", mixed media
Warm Red and Grey Radial, 2018 Installation
Cream and Peach Radial, 2018, 24 x 24" mixed media
Warm Red and Grey Radial, 2018 96 x 96" mixed media
Flower Clock 1, 2018, 50 x 48", mixed media
Flower Clock 2, 2018, 50 x 48" mixed media
Flower Clock 3, 2018, 50 x 48", mixed media
Flower Clock 4, 2018, 50 x 48", mixed media
Flower Clock 5, 2018, 50 x 48", mixed media
Vanitas installation 1
Vanitas installation 2
The Still Season 2018
Samantha Walrod’s work is created in studio after spending reflective time in provincial parks around Alberta and British Columbia. Walrod reconstructs wilderness scenes through drawing, painting and collage mediums. In reconstructing disparate images from various sources including art history, popular culture and her own photos, she addresses the cultural construction of nature.
“The Still Season” is a reflection on the beauty and the impermanence of life. The subjects in Walrod’s paintings are still, and yet they look as if they are ready to move out view or change: bears and wolves are on the hunt, rabbits are ready to run and flowers are ready to wilt. The fleeting nature of these encounters between predator and prey or between spectator and subject are on display as a meditation on the wonderful, temporary and vulnerable quality of life.
Green Radial, 2018, 48 x 48" mixed media
Striped Wolf Road, 2018, 48 x 60" mixed media
Wolf Stalking, 2018, 48 x 60" mixed media
Burnt Roses, 2018, 12 x 12" mixed media
Golden Floral, 2018, 12 x 12" mixed media
Orange Poppy, 2018, 12 x 12" mixed media
Warm Red and Grey Floral, 2018, 12 x 12" mixed media
Light Blue, 2018, 24 x 24" mixed media
Alert East, 2018, 24 x 24" mixed media
Alert, 2018, 24 x 24" mixed media
The Still Season (installation)
The Still Season (installation 2)
Distant and Familiar 2016
Drawing from her experiences throughout urban and rural Alberta, Walrod creates collages that are not faithful reproductions but instead imagined or reconstructed figures. Documented imagery from walks along Alberta’s Edmonton River Valley are collaged with floral patterns found on Worcester china, or animals and flowers from various sources are layered together to recreate travels through the Rocky Mountains. “Distant and Familiar” is documentation that is recorded in a non-linear, nostalgic fashion.
The layers of materials act as a symbol of the mind’s ability to retain detailed information, while at the same time, leaving certain elements unclear. In her own words, Walrod “reacts to the paintings with each layer or erasure, adjusting contrasting activity and quiet, opacity and transparency, chaos and balance”. Tactility is very important to the artist’s practice. Images are incorporated with collage and digital technologies, while maintaining the exploration of paint.
Pink Rose Candy, 2016, 12 x 12" mixed media
Blue Floral Mandala, 2017, 24 x 24" mixed media
Red Fox Portrait, 2016, 24 x 24" mixed media
Competitive Display Cool, 2015, 24 x 24" mixed media
Warm and Cool Melty Kiss, 2016, 48 x 48" mixed media
Butterfly Wings Yellow Dot, 2016, 24 x 48" mixed media
Mule Deer, 2016, 60 x 48" mixed media
Distant and Familiar (Installation)
Distant and Familiar (Installation 2)
Majestic Wander 2014
Soft panels contrast the bold geometry and slashes of colour that festoon other areas of the gallery. The panels are subtle, and with the natural imagery complementing the view into the courtyard; calming.
The quieter of two exhibitions by homegrown artists on display now at Newzones, Samantha Walrod's Majestic Wanderer takes time and contemplation to fully appreciate. But just as the unexpected view of an ambling bear or majestic elk will fill a viewer with some small amount of grace and wonder, so too will Walrod's paintings strike an unexplained chord among her audience.
Although the animal motif is certainly far from unique, inMajestic Wanderer, Walrod's first solo gallery exhibition since her 2013 graduation from the University of Alberta with a masters of fine arts, the mixed-media approach brings texture and life, and the imaginative placement of the animal in its surroundings brings a truthfulness and tension rarely seen intraditional pristine wildlife paintings.
(Lucas Kerr, FFWD Magazine)
Split Seconds Soft Edges 2013
Our view of wild animals is multiple and fractured.
Images in Split Seconds, Soft Edges address these fractured viewpoints. Photographic images have been torn apart and put back together again in a slightly off kilter way. The photographic space is interrupted but remains intact. The act of photographing the animals reminds us of the many cultural lenses that mediate our understanding of them.
The act of collage brings to the surface more readily than photography its construction and artificiality. The edges of the ripped paper, the slight tonal differences in the photographs, and the addition of paint on top of the images all act as a filter or an interruption.
Engineers, ecologists and government agencies have responded to road kill and motorist safety in Banff National Park. Wilderness overpasses, underpasses and fences funnel animal traffic across the highway. These overpasses show a level of care from scientific and government communities, they make our society’s response to the issue of road kill more visible. The passes that I have painted and collaged are hard edged next to the organic lines of the surrounding trees and mountains. The painted bridges and highways cut through or interrupt the visual plane, much like highways do through the landscape. These hard edges talk about a difference in speed and movement between wilderness and car culture, reflecting a sense of unease that is present at these intersections.
I ask the viewer to contemplate their accountability in the existing situation. I am, and we are, directly involved and invested in the shifting boundary between nature and culture.