As a kid, I preferred to liken my own family to a Bruce Lee style family, with my Asian dad and my white mum- they were a beacon of role models to identify with (perhaps I could marry Brandon Lee? We had so much in common!) but going to Asia made me feel too white, growing up in suburban Perth made me feel too Asian. “No, I mean, where are you actually from?” was a question that annoyed me and continues to do so. So, when I met the artist Beth Kirkland and found she had an accent that did not sound like mine, of course, I went ahead and asked her that very same question…..
Beth Kirkland is a Canadian born artist, living in Albany, Western Australia where she is deeply committed to abstraction and spatial relationships in her painting. On my visit there last week, she frequently referred to ‘home’ being Canada, despite having spent the last 19 years in Albany and 40 years in WA, many of which she has lectured in art at TAFE.
As so many of my feature artists attest, myself included, ‘home’ may not be where you live now, where you’ve lived for the most time or be where you grew up. Where we hang our identity hat can be a combination of family, memories, history, nationality, houses, jobs and familiarity – all with a big dash of displacement and/or migration. So I got to wondering whether this enormous physical distance between homes impacts on Kirkland’s work anywhere. “Years ago, I made paintings that juxtaposed two seemingly unrelated areas (like Violet Schism, shown here through the doorway of her studio). I think being fundamentally unsettled must affect my practice in some ways, but I’m not always aware of this”.
Kirkland spends time at Artscape, Gibraltar Point in Toronto as often as she can, where she feels inspired and completes studies for new work. These lead to new paintings when she arrives back in Albany and this work flow, she says, has worked well for her so far. Whilst Kirkland’s paintings were the original reason I had contacted her, she also mentioned she is writing micro-fiction or short, short stories with traditional story writing elements expressed with the utmost brevity, and also some poems. “Micro-fiction arose as a way of exploring my relationship to home, being a migrant but not really settling anywhere. Finding it hard to put roots down. I think I prefer writing to visual art for this exploration”.
This made perfect sense as her paintings also hold their power in the distillation of ideas, their space. As I read her words, I feel the way the words touch each other briefly, circle each other and stop short of each other- in the same way that the shapes and marks on her paintings are interacting in subtle, light ways. I’ve included one poem and one story, many thanks to Beth for sharing these works with Design Satellite.
Back to my imaginary family, I find the perfect metaphor in Bruce Lee’s famous ‘one inch punch’. It seems the paintings and words are drilling down into how pared back the mediums can be whilst still striking a powerful blow.
Oars knock against wood
Stirring water propels
Egg beater turns
Through the turning
Returning from one of my city walks, I come upon a large can of white paint at the foot of the steps to a block of flats. White paint appears from under the door and spreads down the steps to the sidewalk. Bent at the waist, like she’s labouring in a field, is a woman. She’s painting the sidewalk, from the gritty space where sidewalk and building meet, to the curb, despite light poles and empty newspaper boxes that challenge her resolve. She’s moving backwards and towards me, in advance of the whiteness. I guess she lives here, too, in one of the flats.
I think, can she do this?
I say, do you live here?
Why are you doing this?
I’m moving on. It’s time.
I watch as she paints up to and around her white shoes. Engrossed in her own future, she stops inching along the sidewalk. I pass by, skirting the wet paint, and walk up the steps to the front door. I turn to see how she’s doing, but she’s disappeared.