|Carol Wainio stands beside a promotional banner for her exhibition outside the Kelowna Art Gallery.|
As a result, Wainio began a series of paintings that led to Book, an exhibition that's on display at the Kelowna Art Gallery until March 17.
"There was something about reading those stories, particularly things like fairy tales, which are reflective of a certain kind of history, that brought me back to an interest in history on both a physical and imagined level," says Wainio, who teaches painting at the University of Ottawa.
"There were a lot of things about reading to a child that seemed in some ways to echo the early experience of books for cultures, when books were rare and new, and images were powerful."
The paintings strike familiar chords with their portrayals of storybook characters such as Puss in Boots, whose rags-to-riches story has been told and retold in various ways.
Wainio's fascination with how books have been copied and reproduced is also apparent in the ways she plays with various forms of representation - including canvasses within her canvasses.
For instance, Industrial Fairy Tale shows a sheet of hanging fabric with a sketchy image of a prosperous merchant, actually a crow, or perhaps, a raven, dressed in a period waistcoat and black top hat. It also features a stretched canvas of a down-on-its-luck rabbit with its worldly goods slung over its shoulder, which leans against a pile of rubble.
A repeating motif is an open book set in the landscape. In Industrial Fairy Tale, it resembles the ruins of a building. Instead of pages there are empty spaces that, like windows, offer a view of the land.
The setting is ambiguous. As Wainio points out, she echoes some traditions of Northern European landscape painting.
Yet the dull palette lends the painting a dystopic air, and elements in the scene seem drawn from different eras.
In the distance are fields, two smokestacks that suggest a factory, and an arching bridge that seems broken, or gapped, as it disappears into an overcast sky.
Scattered in the foreground are various animals - a stuffed fox and rabbit as well as a dog and cat.
It's easy to draw parallels with recent literary history and the rise of post-modern writing, which challenges traditional narrative structures with unreliable narrators, fractured storylines, and the blending of high art with popular culture.
One could also read ideas about technological transformations and digital reading into the vanishing structure of the book.
Other paintings are equally wide-ranging. Jack and the Cornstalk, which juxtaposes images from the classic Jack and the Beanstalk story with a patch of genetically modified corn, seems to warn about the perils of magic seeds.
Puss in the Subcontinent (#11 Andhra Pradesh) was inspired by the plight of Indian farmers who face insurmountable debts after switching to genetically modified seeds produced by the controversial bio-tech giant, Monsanto.
To call Wainio's work dense, complex and intellectual is an understatement. But at the same time, it's profoundly painterly, and Wainio's pleasure in the manipulation of paint is obvious.
Diana Nemiroff, who curated this exhibition for the Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, notes Wainio is influenced by recent currents in art.
"Her paintings are visually and conceptually full: layered with references to the past and present; to different regimes of knowledge, to popular and high art and their attendant modes of representation," Nemiroff writes in the exhibition catalogue.
"And as paintings, they are emphatically constructed, drawing attention to the shaping and delineating character of paint and line, and shifting with ease between one spatial register and another, as well as between representational styles, each with its social, historical, and artistic connotations."
Who: Carol Wainio
What: The Book
Where: Kelowna Art Gallery, 1315 Water St.
When: To March 17