Pierre Coupey + Dion Kliner: Imaginary Portraits

Pierre coupey, Dion Kliner

Lam Wong

Feb 19 – MAR 27, 2021

TU–Sa: 12–6 PM; M, SU: CLOSED

Please note that this exhibition is by appointment only.

The Imaginary Portraits of Pierre Coupey & Dion Kliner

The current humans on earth are common people. We would probably have Blue light. Our ancestors, the higher spiritual ones, are totally White. 
– Nowaten, Native American medicine man.

To employ the method of walking the cat back* suggested by writer/art critic Peter Schjeldahl, the paintings, drawings and sculptures in this exhibition are “answers.” What then were the questions? To investigate we must ask why imaginary portraits and sculptures of fragments of the human body? What are the artists’ intentions for these mysterious creations?

Art and the creative process is entwined with unknown and mysterious forces. This allows self-discovery for artists while navigating their inner psyche, the human soul, mind and spirit. Art making is profoundly spiritual. What leads to the creation of Coupey’s Imaginary Portraits drawing series and Kliner’s figurative-pure-white-plaster sculptures is potentially a reflection of both artists’ deeper desire to bring the subconscious, unresolved memories and the negated, to the surface, from the far corners of their memory banks. Their intention could also point to the idea of freedom. A desire to transcend the constraints of intellect, of thinking solely of a particular person, by trying (or non-trying) to make the image or form look like anybody. In other words, the freedom of letting go of attachment. By letting go, the artists free themselves from temporality and enter the mind-space of something larger.

This pure essence and idealism of beauty, the untainted human spirit is further exemplified by the colour tone of the exhibition – the almost monochromatic theme of white plaster, and white/grey/buff titanium oil stick, with certain shades of greys that support and illuminate the whiteness, a representation of angelic spirit. As LaoTzu, the godfather of all Taoist sages, wisely pointed out: we can not have the Ying without the Yang. Everything in the world exists only in relation.

Inevitably the artists work from within their own cultural influences and conditions. Coupey’s oil stick drawings of heads and Kliner’s plaster sculptures of heads, and feet understandably evoke depictions of European white males. Are these paintings/drawings and sculptures in some measure self-portraits, or, more likely, an homage to the gods, philosopher kings, artists, writers and poets the artists admire but do not name?

Whatever their intentions, I suspect they are largely about humanity and personal spiritual exploration. Artists are seekers of truth, or, as Kandinsky proposed in his seminal book Concerning The Spiritual In Art (1912): artists need to be the spiritual teachers of the world.

Lam Wong, Curator

Pierre Coupey: I have no idea why I did the Imaginary Portrait drawings, only that the oil sticks and the coil-bound pad of Strathmore drawing paper were there, during the time 1994 to 1996 I was trying to relearn how to paint with oil pigments, having become completely dissatisfied with acrylics. They must have emerged on their own when I was sitting down looking at the failures on the canvasses in front of me. A form of doodling perhaps, a drawing method much prized by Stanley William Hayter with whom I studied printmaking in the 60’s. An antidote, perhaps, to the forced classicism of “good” drawing I was drilled in at the Académie Julian when we had to render in charcoal the Greek and Roman plaster busts “perfectly.” There’s drawing and then there’s drawing.

Dion Kliner: I believe that it may not be possible to ever truly see the art that is in front of us; that we only see it through the vast and ghostly parade of all we’ve seen and are reminded of. My overarching challenge is in finding a way of sculpting my subject so that I’m  surprised and confused by what I’ve made; so that it slips in between all the work I admire, I despise, and cannot get out of my mind. I think I’ve satisfactorily achieved this with my feet and legs. Heads had been another matter until I began asking the question, “What would the heads look like that go with my feet?” When I saw Coupey’s ‘Imaginary Portraits,’ they were an inspiration and I saw a direction I could follow. Drawn in black, white and buff oil stick on paper, they are the colors of plaster, bone, and ivory. Using direct, simple and necessary lines, the forms read easily as volumetric and sculptural. The characters are distinct, but not caricatures; and though imaginary, they’re reminiscent (for me, ’Imaginary Portrait #8’ is Jean Genet). ‘Head (Imaginary Portrait)’ and ‘Head With Wings’ are my first translations; not that close, but on the way.


*Also the title of Coupey’s recent solo exhibition at Gallery Jones last November.

About the Artists

Pierre Coupey
Founding co-editor of The Georgia Straight, founding editor of The Capilano Review, Pierre Coupey has received numerous awards, grants and commissions in Visual art, including grants from Conseil des Arts du Québec, Canada Council, BC Arts Council, and Audain Foundation for the Arts. Received Distinguished Artist Award from FANS (2013), elected to Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (2018), named Faculty Emeritus, Capilano University (2019). Represented in private, corporate, and public collections in Canada and abroad, including permanent collections of Belkin Art Gallery, Burnaby Art Gallery, Canada Council Art Bank, Kelowna Art Gallery, Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, University of Guelph Collection, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery and West Vancouver Art Museum, among others.  Represented by Gallery Jones in Vancouver and by Odon Wagner Gallery in Toronto.

Dion Kliner
Recognized primarily as a sculptor and a writer, Dion Kliner also creates intimately scaled works on paper. Texts for Nothing – One is one of a series of thirteen drawings inspired by Samuel Becket’s thirteen short prose pieces in his book Stories and Texts for Nothing, published in 1967. Kliner’s drawings were produced letter by letter in a laborious rewriting of each one of the texts in its entirety. The original content remains, but has been pulverized through a random distribution of its letters over the paper. Far from being permanent formations, Kliner sees the drawings as short term agglomerations of possibility, which at any moment could crumble back to their original state or reconfigure into something entirely new.

Kliner was born in Los Angeles, California. After attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and East Texas State University he moved to New York City where he worked as a sculptor and writer. In 2003 Kliner relocated with his family to Vancouver. Kliner’s sculptures and drawings have been shown throughout North America, including solo exhibitions at Saint Thomas University (Fredericton) and East Texas State University Gallery (Commerce, Texas). He has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including those at Burrard Arts Foundation (Vancouver), Gallery Jones (Vancouver) and Vancouver Art Gallery. Kliner was awarded the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Grant in 2014.