Wanda Koop, ‘In Absentia (Pure Red - White - Black)’, 2016, Arsenal Contemporary

For four months in 2015, Wanda Koop lived high atop the New York skyline. She spent her days exploring and working in her Brooklyn studio and her mornings and nights peering from her hotel window into the steely glass glare of Manhattan’s sky, watching sundial light shift across the jagged city. Koop describes the experience as profoundly transitory, solitary, and inspiring. Around her was the sum of a civilization’s desires, thrusting upward, sprawling outward, crystallizing the aspirations of America into stalagmites of steel against stalactites of sky. The experience prompted an outpouring of drawings and photographs that Koop distilled into an iconic body of work – glorious colour-field meditations of a city that is itself a distillation of global culture, industry, and growth.

The artist’s dreamlike studies of sun-clashing office towers gave way to paintings of bruised crimsons, topaz blues, fiery dawns and dusky greys. Disorientingly close-cropped, the pictures reflect the abstraction of cosmopolitan life – its squalid bustle reduced to the clean lines of skyscrapers, their wide, blank facades factories for Koop’s colour. Morning fog gathers in the high canyon, breathing sfumato up the thinning ricochet of sky and glass. Evening drapes the buildings in molten afterglow, its long, lively shadows willing Koop’s fluorescents to sing. Perhaps more than in any of the artist’s previous work, her colour play dislodges our sense of foreground and background, sky and earth, preserving the enigmatic, inscrutable grandeur of urban life within a deeply personal diary of colour and light. Real estate developers in major cities routinely sell what is referred to as ‘air rights’, or the space above existing buildings, confusing our sense of what belongs to whom and emphasizing the virtual nature of cities, property and prosperity. Titled In Absentia, Koop’s new body of work extends this metaphor of abstraction and dislocation, reducing speculative markets and soaring monuments to their most essential forms – capturing with an economy of colour the exhilarating disorientation of contemporary life.

About Wanda Koop

Wanda Koop has been reinventing and redefining landscape painting for more than 40 years. Featured in over 50 solo exhibitions, she is a preeminent figure in contemporary Canadian art. Her monumentally scaled work focuses on the intersection of urbanization, contemporary media, and the natural world, and she is additionally renowned for her performance and video art. Koop was most recently awarded the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, 2016.

Canadian , b. 1951