Painting wasted dreams

Strange fascinations can lead to evocative art works. Andrea Kastner’s painting exhibition The Waste Land, currently showing at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City, is a strong example of how powerful work can emerge.

Strange fascinations can lead to evocative art works. Andrea Kastner’s painting exhibition The Waste Land, currently showing at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City, is a strong example of how powerful work can emerge when an artist trusts their instincts. The skill of this painter who depicts garbage is such that her work was included in the 10-person show The Lure of the Local: Women Artists in the Canadian Landscape in Athens, Greece, at the end of 2013.

The former Montrealer was living in Edmonton to work on her masters of fine arts degree when she began wondering what people choose to toss away as trash. Kastner went for long walks down alleyways and brought home whole bags of garbage. Wearing gloves, she sorted through them as if they were mini-excavation sites. She meticulously organized their contents according to size and type and made precise lists.

“I kept thinking about trash as a diary, as secrets, as an identity or a code,” she says. “Eventually it occurred to me that a diary is different, because it records events we consider important, whereas trash is all the stuff we never even think about, the great roiling underground of daily life.”

From there, Kastner began thinking of garbage, and the landfills that result, as a version of the unconscious. She stopped making archival, accurate paintings of trash. It was time to create visual fictions that place the visual richness of sprawling rubbish heaps into relationships with buildings and roadsides. “It became clear as I was working on the paintings that this was why I cared about all that stuff,” she recalls.

“Some people find my work depressing,” she adds, but she sees her “small painterly way” as a way to think about excess and garbage directly, instead of suppressing the knowledge that it’s all there piling up.

Titles add sly humour to Kastner’s works. “Small disasters” (2014) is a group of four small square paintings infused with a specific, familiar shade of turquoise-green that first seems to recall garbage bags or swimming pool liners or… oh wait, those are crumpled, used… disposable diapers! The motivation for these works: Kastner initially painted them for a Mother’s Day show.

Other titles wryly illuminate the conflicts we feel on a personal or a community level when we discard formerly valued belongings. For example, Kastner composes an outsized heap of debris above an abandoned “heritage” building and calls the work “Keepsake” (2013). A pickup truck’s canopy tops the pile, perhaps recalling road trips, since that common activity often leads to people gathering memorabilia they don’t really want.

The exhibition title itself, The Waste Land, refers to T.S. Eliot’s long poem of the same name. In that poem, Eliot contemplates people’s fear-and-desire relationship with ruin and rubbish, among other topics. Kastner creates the link, she says, as a way “to communicate to people walking into the show what kind of world I am trying to draw out.”

Kastner completed her MFA in 2012, the same year she was shortlisted for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition. Then she and her husband, artist Colin Lyons, relocated to Kamloops, where she painted most of the works in The Waste Land.

The canvases offer smooth, seductive surfaces and colour combinations that are harmonious without becoming bland. Kastner’s confident, steady brushwork equally reveals her passion for geometry and light.

Sections of an abandoned apartment complex in “The Inventory of Dreams” (2014), for example, can be enjoyed as miniature colour-field paintings. Yet in the foreground, a capsized bathtub, looks queasy, most of the furniture is broken into sticks, and a bicycle may or may not be whole enough to use as an escape vehicle.

Kastner recently relocated with her family to Hamilton, but was able to come north for the Dawson City opening – the final stop on the show’s five-city tour. A fitting conclusion to her Yukon stint was a visit to the Quigley Landfill, also known as Dawson’s dump, free store and source for much reusable building and mechanical materials.

“Standing in the freezing cold at the dump, surrounded by compressed stacks of refrigerators and stoves as ravens made their eerie sounds – I think that will stay with me,” she reflects. “I think the images from the dump will keep showing up in the next series. I have a feeling that the next body of work will be more surreal perhaps, more otherworldly.”

In the meantime, The Waste Land is at the ODD Gallery until Dec. 6.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist based in Dawson City.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Then Old Crow MLA Darius Elias speak’s in the community centre in Old Crow in 2016. Elias died in Whitehorse on Feb. 17. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News file)
Condolences shared for former Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias

Elias is remembered as a proud parent, hockey fan and politican

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

History Hunter: Kwanlin Dün — a book of history, hardship and hope

Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur: Our Story in Our Words is published by… Continue reading

(File photo)
RCMP arrest Saskatchewan murder suspect

Yukon RCMP have arrested a man suspected of attempted murder from outside… Continue reading

Most Read