By Craig Francis Power

It's quite a year for painter Kym Greeley. Her singular landscape works have shown in a solo exhibition at RCA Gallery in February, she's currently in a group show at A1C Gallery and a two-person show at Eastern Edge, with more group shows upcoming this fall at Sir Wilfred Grenfell Art Gallery in Corner Brook, at Christina Parker Gallery in St. John's, the Toronto International Art Fair, and a residency at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery starting in October which will lead to a solo exhibition opening there on February 6th 2009.

But it's not as though all of this has just happened suddenly for Greeley, who's been working steadily since returning five years ago to her native St. John’s after an extended stint in New York City. "All I did was just work in the studio," she says, "even if no one was paying attention to what I was doing." The perseverance has paid off. Greeley's smart, minimal landscapes focusing on bleak grey roads cutting through a flattened Newfoundland wilderness are in stark contrast to the more expressionistic tradition of our province's landscape painting, and have captured the interest of both curators and gallery goers alike.

These are scenes taken along the roads and highways that crisscross the province, the kind of ephemeral glimpses caught out car windows that aren't particularly scenic or breathtaking. The kind of stuff that doesn't find its way into tourist brochures or television ads, that aren't the beautiful end-point of a journey, but the rarely considered locales between departure and arrival that are ignored in the production of Newfoundland's cultural identity. There are no dramatic cliff faces, no shorelines, no fjords. In fact, much of the imagery could have just as easily come from rural Ontario or Quebec than Newfoundland.

Whereas the landscape work most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are familiar with are often depictions of specific locations imbued with an expression of our distinct culture and sense of place, Greeley has removed such details to foreground the industrial process she uses in the production of her paintings. For her current two-person show (with Alberta artist Scott Rogers) at Eastern Edge Gallery, for instance, Greeley works firstly from a digital photo taken through the windshield of her moving car. She then removes most of the detail through Photoshop or Illustrator, at which point the image is projected and traced onto the canvas. She also uses silk-screen printing processes to block out the major composition of a given piece, though she's somewhat reticent to dish on all of the details of how that works. "I want the line between what’s industrially printed and what is painted to be blurred," she says, "so the viewer can’t tell the difference."

What may seem at first to be an idiosyncratic quirk in Greeley's process, is actually an important element in the work’s meaning. If Warhol's robotic silk screen reproductions of movie stars, electric chairs and car accidents suggested a meaninglessness and numbness about our day to day lives, can it be that Greeley's work is identifying our further alienation from the natural world, even in a culture and community that’s identity is so grounded in the landscape? "I think, unconsciously, that may have been going on," she says, "but I was more interested at the time in the history of contemporary art than the history of Newfoundland art. How painting went from Abstraction to Expressionism to Minimalism. So it wasn’t overtly political in that way. That happened afterward."

There has been growing frustration in some sectors of the art world with the apparent didacticism of much contemporary art. That artists are merely illustrating some pre-existing political idea or moral. For Greeley, it’s vital that viewers "bring [their] own experiences to the work," that there is room for the viewer's own thoughts and feelings in the experience, rather than being told how to engage, react or interpret the paintings. In his catalogue essay for Phendrana Drift, Greeley’s solo show at RCA Gallery earlier this year, writer and curator Bruce Johnson describes looking at her paintings as "something like experiencing film… They return me to the place of passenger." The only thing more apt for me, as a perhaps more youthful observer, would be to say they remind me of playing "Pole Position," the early to mid 1980s Atari video game, wherein the player navigates a flat, almost detail-free landscape in a Formula 1 race car. Similarly youthful, Greeley admits to this influence on her aesthetic sensibilities as well, revealing even further how technological advances, both for industry and entertainment, have forced us to reconsider landscape.

As for her upcoming residency and solo show at the Rooms, Greeley says the paintings she has planned are specific to the gallery space in which she"ll be showing, and that viewers can expect a broadened colour palate, larger scale, and a new area of focus for her process. But she refuses to describe too much how the finished product will look, reaffirming, like the paintings themselves, how her process, the journey itself, is the real thing worth considering.