The River in the Tree exhibition title was appropriated from a poem by Emily Dickinson(1830-1886) to her friend, Elizabeth Holland.
“Friday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel. A circus passed the house - still I feel the red in my mind though the drums are out. The lawn is full of south and the odors tangle, and I hear today for the first time the river in the tree.”
Take a moment to picture it: “the river in the tree.” For artist Yechel Gagnon, it was these words by Dickinson describing the changing of seasons, from winter to spring that resonated with her for this new body of work. Dickinson’s abstracted language, so vivid, colourful and powerful, allows for multiple interpretations; the river can suggest the sap of the tree, a current, an energy or even the pulse that beats inside of the tree. Wood is a material that is tremendously sensual, warm, strong and often remains alive while it is being worked.
Gagnon’s medium of choice has always been wood; particularly plywood. In her artistic practice, she explores, experiments and plays with the potential of a material that oscillates between the natural and artificial. Like an excavation, she carves, gouges and even burns the plywood, exposing the natural strata of the wood grain to reveal a new world, reclaimed through destruction. Gagnon believes that one needs to destroy in order to create yet creation and destruction are integral and cyclical to both nature and the creative process.
Gagnon’s sculpted bas-reliefs are composed of various laminates: tinted and exotic wood veneers, each providing depth as she exposes the various layers. Gagnon’s process is forceful – even violent, yet the resulting abstract and complex works are seductive, refined and even transcendental. Her works often alternate between micro and macro perspectives of nature while evoking aerial or topographical map-like views of the land.
Similar to the poem from Dickinson to her friend, The River in the Tree opens an artistic dialogue between Gagnon and Thomson’s work about nature and changes to the landscape. While Thomson captured natural and man-made transformations to the natural world in his paintings, Gagnon interprets an abstracted landscape by immersing herself into her materials, carving and sculpting the wood, allowing the material to speak. The exhibition shifts between Thomson’s vision of the Canadian wilderness and Gagnon’s contemporary process of art making. By grouping these works of varied materials and approaches, the viewer is brought into the dialogue on the symbiosis between the natural and the man-made; how they coexist and relate in nature.
Excerpts from the essay by Heather Hughes
Tom Thomson Art Gallery
Yechel Gagnon holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree (Studio Arts) from Concordia University and an AOCAD with Honours in Drawing and Painting from the Ontario College of Art and Design. Her works are exhibited in galleries, artist-run centres and museums across Canada, the United States, France and China. Her public artworks and exhibitions have attracted frequent reviews by noted critics and curators. She is recipient of numerous grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec and the Conseil des arts de Longueuil. Gagnon’s works are represented in public, corporate and private collections. Yechel Gagnon is represented by Newzones in Calgary and featured at Cynthia Reeves in New Hampshire.