Vintage First Aid and Reflections

at Shift Gallery through July 1, 2017

by Stephanie Hargrave

Karen Klee-Atlin’s solo show fills Shift Gallery with an impressive range of mediums and styles. She has created paintings on canvas, etchings, wood cuts as well as mezzotints, and is as talented with color as she is in black and white.

One side of the space displays a body of work called Procession. It begins with small, quiet etchings held in place with magnets to a simple steel structure. On light paper with no color and lovely line work, you nearly move past them entirely until you realize they mimic each of her paintings compositionally. Perhaps they were studies? Perhaps they came afterward. In any case, they are, with the exception of being figurative, the exact opposite of the paintings, which are large, bold, and offer a palette of rich dark greens and yellows on a brilliant orange background. They have a somberness tinged with a days-gone-by sweetness. As she says in her artist statement, the work mines what is tender and vivid in images from vintage industrial first-aid training manuals.   All the figures are male, each wearing similar garb in darks and forest greens. In each piece, five are in the process of lifting and carrying one man. The story continues as you walk through the paintings. The procession continues until the group is standing carrying one man flat on a stretcher. What caught my eye was the yellow halo like shape around each man’s head, blending beautifully into the orange background, allowing the focus to be on their actions, rendered lovingly to show their dutiful caretaking.

On Water is a separate body of work on the other side of the gallery that examines life on the lake. Using reductive and multiple woodblock printing, she references what is reflected in or found floating on the water. Her cabin in northern Ontario was the inspiration, which must be a lovely place, given the pond surfaces, water lilies, dams, timbers, and various reflections found in this vibrant body of work.

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