Rosemary Scanlon 2023 Longlist
Rosemary Scanlon is visual artist living and working in Whitehorse, Yukon. She completed her BFA at Concordia University in Montreal, before receiving an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art. Rosemary is a two-time recipient of both the Yukon Government Advanced Artist Award and the Yukon Government Travel Grant. She has twice received the Elizabeth T. Greenshields Memorial Grant in support of outstanding developing artists and is also the recipient of the Canada Council Explore and Create grant. As an artist-inresidence, Rosemary has worked in conjunction with the Banff Centre, the Klondike Centre for the Arts, and MAWA – Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art. She has exhibited broadly, nationally and internationally, including shows at the Ottawa Art Gallery; Lesher Centre for the Arts, California; Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow; and the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin.
My work is inspired by life and landscape in the Yukon, a place of extremes: of surreal beauty and real cold; of mythic fantasies of “The North” and mundane realities of day-to-day existence as a woman, mother, and global citizen confronting the uncertainties of a world shaped by climate change. For the past thirteen years, through a visual language shaped by fantasy, religious iconography, and historical allusion, I have crafted watercolour paintings that invite altered states and renewed perspectives. Presented in terms of ceremony and ritual—embracing the maximalism of Hieronymus Bosch, botanical drawings, stylized tiger rugs, the Arts and Crafts style, the embellishment of gold leafing, and the chance world of playing cards—the symbolism and narratives of my work are intensified, and the result is a surrealist vision that defamiliarizes understandings of ourselves, our relationship with the natural environment, and our sense of the future.
The works here have all been painted in the last two years and will be included in my upcoming solo exhibition at the Yukon Art Centre entitled “Springtime Premonitions”. The show loosely takes inspiration from the boom-and-bust cycles of the lynx and the hare, which has fascinated boreal ecologists for more than a century. In a time of climate crisis, however, such a delicate balance is threatened. The work thus features motifs of hindsight and foretelling, either through a snow globe containing a precious scene from the past or a crystal ball gazing into the future. Glacial mountaintops remain snow-covered, but for how long? The Stellar Jay enters the scene, a beautiful, wise creature—but here in the North only because of the transforming climate. An apocalyptic imagery prompts the following questions: in what sense are we human and in what sense animal? How does place and environment contain us? How does myth and story help us make meaning of our searching? In what forms does the interplay between external and internal worlds take shape?
Ultimately, notwithstanding these questions and uncertainty, the work reflects a sense of promise and the hope of rebirth. For instance, in one piece, from a crack in the burnt forest bursts a bloom of mushrooms. Elsewhere, a universal expanse emerges from under a manhole cover in the sky, from which a flower blooms. The small, intimate setting of the watercolour supports my exploration of vast concerns at the level of the internal and the everyday, where spiritual and animal elements of the human intersect. Significantly, I myself have been in the midst of a kind of rebirth, returning to my practice after an absence, during which I have been focused on my role as both mother and breadwinner. But in returning to my broadly-interested work with a renewed sense of the role of the personal therein, I have not only a renewed passion but a refined awareness of the human journey through life’s stages, from childhood, to adolescence, to parenthood, to middle-age, and beyond, and within the frame of selfhood, family unit, and society.
2021, watercolour and gold leaf on paper, 21″h x 23″w
“Springtime Premonitions,” the title piece for my recent show at the Yukon Art Centre, takes inspiration from the boom-and-bust cycles of the lynx and the hare, which has fascinated ecologists of the boreal forest for more than a century. The work layers ecological narratives and personal narratives. Specifically, the two lynxes at play here represent my children, whose play with snow globe-like crystal balls speaks to their possible futures. Artificial-looking florals stand in contrast to wild roses, the goal here being to represent the precarious state of a Nature so influenced by human activity. Meanwhile the Stellar Jays serve as protective, revitalizing spirits in this space.
"Ace of Hearts"
2022, watercolour and gold leaf on paper, 25″h x 20″w
One of the show’s three pieces inspired by playing cards, “Ace of Hearts” works with the symbolism of the snow globe and crystal ball as a meditation on our uncertain future in a world shaped by climate change. Inside the globe are both wild and manicured roses, while below, a tailoredsuited arm sets fire to the globe. Against a background of snowy mountains, the Stellar Jay looks on. Will we embrace the guiding, saving forces of the natural environments we’ve become so distanced from?
2022, watercolour and gold leaf on paper, 24″h x 18″w
Part of a larger series of works titled ‘Animal Icons’ and featuring both the King of Hearts and the Queen of Hearts, this fully reversible painting depicts two wild cats framed according to religious iconography in order to invoke the tremendous significance of the lynx as spirit animals in the North. Much is at stake here: a game of cat’s cradle is played over mountain peaks—the string as construction flagging tape representing the interruption of pristine wilderness by industrialization, urbanization and natural resource extraction.
2021, watercolour and gold leaf on paper, 18″h x 13″w
Pulled through the celestial hole symbolizing nature’s ultimate potential is the hare. A recurring image from my lynx and hare boom-bust cycle, the title figure speaks to the forces of fertility and child bearing in the face of disruptive environmental stressors. Birthed here by human hands, and surrounded by dandelions in bloom and going to seed, the image holds out hope in an uncertain and frightening time.
2023, watercolour on paper, 27″h x 30″w
‘Bloom’ features the recurring character of the owl, a mother-like, protective figure. Her surroundings are scarred by human activity: burnt forest, chain-link fence, manhole, pylons, flagging tape. The owl’s nest is in jeopardy and there is even a sense it is blocked off from her. On the other hand, a celestial space is visible through the manhole-portal, with a flower growing forth. Further, a mushroom bloom emerges from the cracked forest floor. Butterflies and moths survey the scene as well. Are they watchful spirits? What’s more, mysterious hands make shadow puppets. What better future might they imagine?
2022, watercolour and gold leaf on paper, 24″h x 18″w
This haloed, holy owl once more invokes religious iconography, specifically the virginal Madonna. Surrounded by and draped in objects from nature drawn in a childlike fashion, this icon has an energy of innocence as well as wisdom; of rejuvenation along with age-old knowledge. Further, with its human-like heart, we recognize our kinship as creatures of nature. Tempting serpents are at hand, however.
2022, watercolour on paper, 20″h x 20″ w
Painted in the Fall amidst vibrant autumnal Yukon foliage, I was preparing at the time to shift to a new season of my life, post-childbearing years. I lovingly embraced this period of dynamism by turning to a diverse cluster of images that capture the complex series of emotions involved: dueling snakes, spiderwebs, dandelions going to seed, a matchbook, a key dangling from a branch. Further duality lies in the sleeping hare and the hunting owl.
2023, watercolour and gold leaf on paper, 26″ h x 19″w
The Playful Fox is the third featured playing card in the collection. A joker figure with two heads and two crowns, the Fox embodies the duality of the human heart—its tenderness and openness to the world’s magic (the painting’s celestial puddle, Dorothy’s ruby slippers) but its propensity to succumb to evil (the snake). Which will it be?