On the way out the door

Finishing this series of paintings on paper means it's time to pack up, paint the walls, hand over the keys and get on the airplane!

Heterotopia - A Paper Trail to Foucault

There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places .…. which
are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.

Michel Foucault. Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias.
Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec.

I am not a premeditative painter. During the last ten years, most if not all of my paintings started with a white canvas on the floor being mercilessly, deliberately defiled. Yet as I write this, I am concluding a body of work in which there has been very little room for accident. My approach has been delicate and calculated. Far from the days of destroying months of work in one whimsical splash from a bucket of white acrylic, these paintings evolved from strategy during afternoons spent with my nose up against oil paint, the last signs of life squeezed desperately from a select few favored brushes.

I was relieved to be freed from the rollercoaster of abstraction and even took comfort in being able to predict where the painting would be by the end of the day. Never the less, a part of me still longed for the thrill of surprise, that moment of ecstasy when a mess of a painting, like a ship lost at sea, begins to find its way. This act of wandering, which had once taken so much paint, took place on paper.

I began by, reproducing certain gestures and shapes from earlier paintings on individual pieces of paper, extracting what I saw as a personal symbolism from my earlier work. By rearranging them into compositions on the studio wall, I reentered my own artwork from an entirely new perspective. The trail forged by the last decade could now be explored.

At the same time, I began to look for ways to conceptualize this new direction. Where could it go? I could envision many directions, none of them parallel to each other, nor in opposition. Each new painting began as a departure from the first, but never the less connected to it. Inspired by science writer Margaret Wertheim’s beautifully crochet (hyperbolic) coral reefs I began to imagine myself working in a form of hyperbolic space, an infinite realm between any number of ideas stemming from that initial piece of spray-painted paper hung on a studio wall.

As these pieces of paper (notebook pages, really) worked their way into to new painting, so too did other pieces of my physical environment. The world inside my studio began to turn up on canvas. Painted with a degree of fidelity, a piece of paper is accepted as a representation of paper, a paint can, as a paint can. But in this series, the convention didn’t seem to hold. As I began the process of reflecting my outside world, it turned upsidedown, became framed inside the edges of the canvas. I began to realize these paintings have more in common with each other than with any physical place I have ever been. As my metaphorical ship came to shore, I found myself landing in my own heterotopia.

The realities falsely reflected onto these canvases are heterotopias of illusion. Function layered on dysfunction they reshape this incompatibility and offer a new reading of the represented place. I see this painted heterotopia being played out in two ways. First, formally, by manipulating the composition of elements in the paintings, the usual assumptions about foreground and background are broken down. The result is an opportunity to simultaneously represent an illusionary depth to a painting and expose the flatness of the canvas by applying thick paint that literally sits raised off the surface.

Secondly, as mentioned, these pieces use representations of recognizable objects and locations (sheets of paper, artwork and other materials found in a studio) to build narratives. However, in the context of these new narratives, the original function of the objects represented is redirected. A piece of paper held by tape takes on an anthropomorphic presence. The spaces meant to read as walls begin to dislodge, acting as doorways breaking depth of field, or symbolizing the sails of a ship.

Making these paintings, I was surprised by the seemingly endless ways heterotopic spaces can be played out through their narratives. But as quickly as the paper trail led me to Foucault, Foucault brings me right back into the studio, into every studio, into the heterotopia that is the physical studio. Just as Foucault found heterotopic spaces in our gardens, churches and museums, so too is the artist’s studio a marginal space where incompatible realities are played out.

Here, the most absurd ideas are elevated while practical (responsible) considerations are left only superficially considered. Under exposed pipes and inadequate light, a self-indulgent theatre is played out, a heterotopia blossoms. In these hidden think tanks, an artistic exercise meant to reflect something true or philosophical about the world outside its doors runs amuck. Tangents of association mix with struggle and play. The result is discovery, and need not be more.

In studio spaces, we create a place outside the every day, a counter-site to use Foucault’s terms, in which we can reflect our experience of being, and turn it upside-down.

After all, it is with the mind that we see rather than with the eye. Is a pipe ever a pipe?

Stories from the Line: Cheaper Show 2011

This summer a PHD student in Vancouver braved the crowds and long hours of standing in line to buy two of my paintings at the Cheaper Show. She wrote this exciting (and flattering) blog about the whole experience on The Academic Romantic. Maybe next year I'll get in line too.

The Cheaper Show; or, "anyone who's been here all day knows what they want"

Anyone who's been to my flat lately has seen my half-finished big painting that dominates the living room. I last blogged about it here and here. The inspiration for this painting has been the work of my favorite Vancouver artist, Fiona Ackerman. As I am a PhD student/gymnastic coach (read: controlled perfectionist) I really admire the freedom in Fiona's paintings: the big movements, the courageous colours, the wild drippings and the willingness to paint over, again and and again.

I first saw Fiona's stuff at the Culture Crawl two years ago, with my then-flatmate J. That was when we saw our first David Robinson sculpture, too-- and promptly met a guy at the Wilder Snail who has Ronbinson's "Suspended Figure" in his kitchen window. Anyway, it was my introduction to the Vancouver art scene, and I still have Fiona's postcard pasted in my journal.

Read the full blog post here

Thanks to Doug MacLean of Canadian Art Gallery for his comments to the Art Dealers Association of Canada.

"Herringer Kiss Gallery on 11th Avenue brought to town the explosive and experimental paintings of Fiona Ackerman in an exhibition titled “Celebratory Gunfire”. Fiona fits right in with what I call "new school abstraction", for she’s one of the young painters that we can see blooming from coast to coast. It’s exciting work that somehow makes you want to laugh- an odd reaction for a serious pursuit, and triggered by marks, colour, and literal explosions right in front of you."

"XO" Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 132", 2011

Luftveränderung - Berlin

Summertime in Berlin. A breath of fresh air. Opportunity buds, and I wonder if it isn't time for a new beginning.

The Block Magazine

MARGINAL SPACE, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas. 49" x 63", 2010

In anticipation of this year’s Cheaper Show – a buzzy, decade-old art show highlighting emerging artists and selling their work for $200 a pop – we’re profiling a trifecta of young artists whose work we love. Our first profile in this series is Fiona Ackerman.

Vancouver-based Ackerman’s kaleidoscopic abstracts have us hooked; her landscapes, rich fantasy worlds with unusual colour combos and forays into graffiti, promise to rival even the pristine mountain view from our window. She spills about meeting her art-star dad for the first time, how she makes the choice between army green and, say, neon pink, and drawing inspiration from within.

The Block: How did you become an artist?

Fiona Ackerman: I grew up in Montreal and was always drawing, but when I was 13 I met my father for the first time. He’s a well-known German painter, and I went to a workshop he did in Italy, just a two week painting class, and my eyes were completely blown open. It was the most interesting, fascinating thing I’ve ever seen and I went back the next year. I ended up studying painting and drawing at Concordia, graduated from Emily Carr in 2002, and really never looked back.

TB: When did you know you could make it as an artist?

FA: I am always waiting for that moment! Some months it’s my career and other months it’s my passion – if you know what I mean. Painting is part of my life forever, and everything else in my life organizes itself around it.

TB: What do you do in those times when art is your passion?

FA: For the last five years I’ve worked at Pigeon Park Savings Union in the Downtown Eastside. It’s a bank for people who don’t have bank accounts or often even anywhere to live.

TB: Does your artwork have any social activist influence as a result?

FA: I don’t think so. My work has always been, though not intentionally, very much about painting and about finding my own language as a painter. For me it is a place where I explore my curiosity about painting, about form, and composition, and colour.

I LOVE YOU, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 48" x 48", 2010

TB: So where do you find inspiration and subject matter?

FA: Because i have a range, stylistically, the answer is two-part. I have this very abstract work that is driven by colour and by taking little snippets of textures and patterns from daily life that I may not even realize I’m taking in. It’s painting for painting’s sake and building up these imaginary words, very abstractly. Then I have another arena of painting that’s more representational. I’ve done a series of portraits and they are truly about the subject and about representing people I’m interested in and places I find interesting.

TB: Was your painting always abstract or did you start out a realist?

FA: I actually started off more abstractly, but a lot of it happens very simultaneously. Right now I’m working on a body of fairly abstract work at the same time as a series of portraits, so I have these two things happening at the studio. Working back and forth with these two ways of painting, I find that they feed each other. It’s sort of like, as a muscle builder (not that I am one!) you don’t want to exercise so that you lean too far in one direction – I’m exercising both sides of my painting brain in order to be able to wander through both worlds with comfort.

DISTRACTION, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30", 2010

TB: Some of your colour combinations are very unexpected; how do you choose colours?

FA: A few years ago, I was deliberately trying to use colours that are very difficult for myself. It’s funny because now they’re colours I can reach for quite easily. When I start painting with these colours, with a palette of odd greens, for example, then it’s really the paining itself that tells me what it needs, the painting chooses for me.

TB: You like to use spray paint, and unusual medium for a fine-art painter.

FA: Sometimes when I’m feeling restless with paintings, I’ll go to the art store and find materials that I haven’t used before to see if it’ll make a different mark or add a different element to a painting. Spray paint is a really powerful tool, but I have a limited colour selection. The colours cause you to work around them a little bit which is an interesting challenge.

TB: How do you choose titles for paintings (some of our favourites are “Washed Up On Soda Beach” and “A Philosophical Maybe”)?

FA: I’ll stumble upon a line in a book and think, oh that’ll make a pretty title and jot it down. Oftentimes it’s after a painting is finished and I have a show coming up and Untitled 1, 2, 3 is becoming far too confusing. It’s really the fun part; it’s like putting icing on a cake, naming a painting.

XO, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas 132" x 36", 2010

TB: You were once quoted as saying: “I’ll never be a landscape painter.” And yet, here you are painting beautiful – if abstract – landscapes.

FA: I should never have said that. That was the first line of a talk I gave at Dianne Farris and I go on to talk about how foolish that is and how I didn’t understand landscape painting – or even painting – at the time, when I was 19 and living in Montreal. I thought I didn’t want to just do more landscape paintings, but I didn’t understand that landscape painting means so many different things and it’s such a basic human thing to represent our environment. Now I’m absolutely a landscape painter, I adore it. My paintings are abstract but they are abstract landscapes, they are environments.

TB: Do you discover these landscapes in the world?

FA: They come from my imagination. I create imaginary worlds. I’ll find a new material or colour and the landscape builds itself up from there, often without me being conscious of it. When you open your mouth to speak, and a voice comes out, it’s not clear why you use that voice; it’s not always intentional

TB: What do you hope to convey with your artwork?

FA: Precision, playfulness, mood. I want to create something that never gets tired. Someone I know who owns a piece of mine tells me they see something different in it every year that they own it. That, to me, is a successful painting.


TB: Are you painting something special for the Cheaper Show?

FA: I paint with the Cheaper Show in mind but not in a committed way. For a couple months leading up to it I think, this could be a possibility or this could, and then only in the last weeks do I really narrow it down.

TB: Can you give us a hint about what you might be planning?

FA: Over the years I’ve done a series of framed abstract works on paper. These have been a way for me to get to the root of new ideas, which I really enjoy doing. I decided to do a few bigger ones this year, and there’s a chance that those that will be strong enough for the show.

TB: What do you think the Cheaper Show means for Vancouver’s art scene?

FA: Publicity, obviously, for an artist is always so much appreciated, and buzz – people are so excited about so many things, and painting is often a media that is harder to get excited about because it’s such a personal experience. The event itself is fun in a way that artists don’t get to experience as often, but also I think all these artists are getting a closer look.

TB: An artist friend sometimes complains that the Cheaper Show means everyone waits for this one day to buy art at a discount. What’s your opinion?

FA: I’ve thought a lot about this too. I think buying one piece of artwork, if it’s someone’s first piece, is a real foot in the door. If a person thinks they could never own artwork and we can break that feeling down for them with such a great price, we’re really opening the door for a life of owning art.

Interview Darcy Smith

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Picture Book One

Vancouver, BC - The Storyboard Label is pleased to announce the launch of the Picture Book Art Series at the Interurban Gallery. Picture Book One is a group exhibition featuring painting, illustration and sculpture by emerging and established Canadian artists including: Fiona Ackerman, Karin Bubas, Jessica Delorme, Ryan Heshka, Steve Hubert, Jeffry Lee, Niall McClelland, Nadia Moss, Luc Paradis, Corrilynn Tetz, and Howie Tsui.

The exhibition is curated by Scott Lewis and is on view until May 5.

Lululemon Lab Art Instillation

I was invited to create this instillation piece in the display window of the Lululemon Lab in Vancouver. My piece is third in an artist series curated by Zoe Pawlak, and it will remain in the window until the end of April. This was such a pleasure!!

Galleries West reviews Pushing The Edge

Painting is a well-mapped terrain; we have reached an era where it seems as if everything within the medium has been done, from all styles of representation to abstraction and back again. In this climate, painters strive to create their own visual languages. Pushing the Edge, the title of a three-person painting exhibition at the Diane Farris Gallery, suggests that the works of Fiona Ackerman, Nick Lepard and Wil Murray take painting into unexplored territories. Delving into the work and the artists’ intentions however, I found that they were enamoured with the structures of painting, namely portraiture and landscape, using these as a means to create paintings that are less about representation and more about the manipulation of paint while remaining within its boundaries. (read more)

Globe and Mail

REVIEW: Arts writer R.M. Vaughan reviews the exhibition at Parts Gallery in the Saturday October 9 2010 full colour edition of the Globe & Mail.

Fiona Ackerman at Parts Gallery
Until Oct. 10, 1150 Queen St. E., Toronto; www.partsgallery.ca

Vancouver-based painter Fiona Ackerman’s new acrylics on canvas, currently on display at Parts Gallery, are an excellent example of what psychologists call “associational logic.”

When you describe the individual parts of a given Ackerman painting, then add said parts together, the math ought not to hold. But her paintings do cohere, and cohere wonderfully, largely because they remain true to their own interior, wholly idiosyncratic, systems of logic. Ackerman is a brave painter – always walking the dental-floss-thin tightrope between expertly composed and total train wreck.

In one painting alone, I found half loops and dendrites, sharp barbershop stripes and splayed, wobbly brush strokes, speckles against scales and flame licks paired with waves – and nothing seemed out of place. Ackerman’s mad colour combinations, cement greys sidling up to neons, tangerines making nice with paper-bag browns, would cause sensible colour theorists to throw up their twiggy arms in high dismay. But Ackerman makes the odd couples dance, mostly by knowing exactly how much ballroom floor space to give them.

It takes a lot of careful planning to make a painting come across as both superficially haphazard and, on further inspection, deeply studied. I suspect Ackerman scrapes off as much paint as she applies. One of her key strategies, I’m guessing, is to compose each painting around a central organic form, or cluster of forms, and then build out from that point.

The result of all this careful planning is, perversely, a set of paintings that carry the loose, shifting and untrustworthy physics of free-association daydreaming. The works also remind me, weirdly enough, of the interiors of aquariums, those microcosmic seascapes made up of luridly coloured, hyper-artificial coral and flora.

Pity the paintings are not waterproof.

Forging the Land

Commotion by the Ocean, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 36" x 72" 2010

This September marks the 10 year anniversary of my moving to Vancouver. I moved from Montreal just into my 20’s. A Montreal-er to the core, I was following love and opportunity to a city I knew very little about. Already absorbed by painting, I was fueled by the energy of my urban environment and the community of Montreal artists around me. I was afraid, that the move to green and rainy Vancouver would somehow make me soft. To friends, I promised I would be back. Secretly to myself however, I made what I thought were far more important vows. I swore I would never become a landscape painter.

What a mistake that would have been. I have since come to appreciate landscape painting for it’s history, it’s versatility and it’s potential. I employ the idea of landscape not in the traditional sense, representing our natural surroundings, but rather as a composition referring to and inspired by the many environments we experience.

Landscape is a powerful compositional tool, bring the eye out of disorientation to land on a horizon. So describes my painting process. I begin very loosely, building up the canvas with a conversation of marks, colours and line. Like walking through a labyrinth, I am searching to find my way through the world I am depicting by moving paint around, overprinting and exploring. There is a transformative moment in the process of making a painting when a metaphorical horizon emerges. Suddenly the painting has direction and the mess of colours and shapes begin to function in relation to one and other.

It is these relationships, between colours and form, land to sky, that express the complexities of our experience. It is in so many landscapes that out stories unfold, and our lives are staged.

Pushing the Edge

I'll be showing some of my newest work along side Wil Murray and Nick Lepard. I'll also be giving an artist talk at DFG on the 18th.

Artist Reception: Thursday, September 9, 6 - 8pm
Exhibition continues to October 2
Artist Talk: Saturday, September 18, 2pm


Image: The Original Analog Sound Wave, Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 72", 2010

Diane Farris Gallery
1590 W. 7th Avenue
Vancouver, Canada
(604) 737-2629

Oeno Gallery

"Hunt the Dog", oil on canvas, 75" x75", 2007

The kids are back in the County. This painting, "Hunt the Dog" is based on an old photograph taken of my aunt and uncle when they were kids, on the farm where they grew up in Prince Edward County (ON). Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ackerman farm, a beautiful piece of land where generations of children, including myself, spend endless summer days running free.

Under the watchful eyes of a series family dogs, we played and explored the countryside- returning home when the sun set. Independent and on the edge of danger, the outdoors was our home. It was the site of our socialization. Loyalty, betrayal, sympathy, trust all played out in each growing season by a clan of kids, bent on mischief.

This week the painting came home to the County. I am very pleased that it now hangs (with a number of other pieces) at the Oeno Gallery.