Landon Mackenzie

Finding Landon MacKenzie

From the moment I was wowed by my first Landon Mackenzie paintings at the Vancouver Art Gallery many years ago, I have been following her trail. Like the maps she uses as an element in her work, I’ve been travelling across Canada, and finding her large scale paintings in different museums. I loved the juxtaposition of her dark and sparkly work with a dark and tropical Peter Doig painting at the National Gallery in Ottawa. I was drawn to a huge and complex painting in the upper foyer of the Musée d’art contemporain in Montréal which turned out to be a Landon Mackenzie.

And my stalking has not been limited to art alone: I’ve seen Mackenzie in a film on the difficulty of being a woman artist in Canada; I’ve heard her speak at Emily Carr; I’ve attended her open studio; and the ultimate rendezvous, I signed up to have Mackenzie be one of the three instructors who critiqued my paintings after my third year at art school. She was the only one who spoke during the short session, and she saw little in my painting to recommend it, which sent me into a downward spiral where I didn’t paint for three months.

Fortunately I have not held this final meeting against her and I have persevered, both in my painting and in my pursuit of seeing Landon Mackenzie’s work. She is currently on display at the Richmond Art Gallery, and it’s a lovely venue with enough room to really highlight her work. Her paintings are over 10 feet long and very complex, so they require a lot of space around them to appreciate the work. Currently Mackenzie is working with ideas of the brain and neural pathways, which are traced in her new paintings.

"Circle of Willis" by Landon Mackenzie is at Richmond Art Gallery.

My two favourites in the show are “Vancouver as Centre of the World” and “Circle of Willis”, both have the deeply complex lines and colours which first drew me to her paintings. In addition, she uses light or light colours masterfully, creating both dimension and movement.  The Vancouver painting combines mapping and map symbols in an ancient map oval with the contrasting stripes of a circus tent, and the juxtaposition is intriguing.   The term, “Circle of Willis”, refers to a pattern of arteries in the brain, and the painting is as creative as the brain itself, swooping through images and connections to create a work so complex I could stand in front of it for hours.

The show runs until the end of October so there is still time for those in the Vancouver area to see it if they have not already. I also enjoyed the education room showing a video of Mackenzie painting on location in Saskatchewan and a small library of books and magazines which feature her work.  If you live farther afield, I would suggest you check out Mackenzie’s website at

Or like me, you can just wander across Canada and discover her paintings in different museums, because nothing compares with seeing work in person.

Force fields

I have been reading a book about Peter Doig, an artist I greatly admire.  The book is about his 2008 Show at the Tate Britain, and features many of his disquieting landscapes.  In the book, I spotted a painting that I had seen in person at the National Gallery in Ottawa.  This painting, Grand Rivere, is a dark and jungly landscape that suggests a mysterious narrative. It's huge and gorgeous and slightly disconcerting, and held the whole wall of the museum room.  On the opposite wall was a large scale painting by another artist that I admire, Landon Mackenzie. This painting was also dark, a blue darkness with glowing highlights. 

I must have looked like a crazed puppy at a tennis court, as I scrambled across from one painting to the other, admiring the details in turn.  The paintings shared a darkness and a mystery, but situating them across from one another was brilliant as it created an artistic synergy in the room, a vertiable force field.  The paintings were superficially similar, but the differences were intriguing:
jungle vs. urban
paint rubbed away vs. addition of mixed media
nature vs. man-made

I love to read about art, but not as much as I enjoy exhibitions. Seeing paintings in person is always worthwhile, but seeing paintings in juxtaposition adds an unexpected dimension.