Ottawa mixed-media artist Amy Thompson has a thing about the 1940s and 1950s.
She loves nothing better than to appropriate evocative images from that period, culled from wallpaper, catalogues, and advertisements, and then, after some cutting and pasting, to create a collage that combines nostalgia for the past with issues of the present.
Her latest show is anchored by a series of dramatic 60-by-40-inch collages entitled See Your West. Reproductions of photographs of magnificent wilderness areas, mainly in the western United States, form the basis for each piece. Death Valley and Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park are among the scenes depicted that will be recognizable to many.
Thompson imposes geometric shapes — cubes, pyramids, or circles made of white or gold leaf — on the reproductions of the photographs, hiding much of the pristine wilderness behind. The shapes offer a juxtaposition that is both jarring and inscrutable. Something foreign and otherworldly has just arrived in the landscape. What is it?
Thompson harvested the background images from a collection of 54 prints produced by Standard Oil Company in 1947 and distributed through Chevron and Standard gas stations, inevitably encouraging tourists to explore more of the West that features so prominently in American mythology. Of course, exploring also meant buying more gasoline.
The geometric shapes represent the clear-cut forests the artist has encountered alongside national parks in the western United States. The exhibit uses beauty to lead the viewer to ponder the desecration of nature, whether through logging or the extraction of fossil fuels to run gas-guzzling vehicles.
The overwhelming message: Enjoy your visit to national parks — but remember, there is a price to be paid.
New Work by Amy Thompson is at the Ottawa Art Gallery Rental and Sales in Arts Court from Jan. 24 to Feb. 23. Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave., 613-233-8699.