The sky's the limit

By Aaren Madden, April 2014

Kylee Turunen moves between abstract and landscape to create a unique visual world.

"Golden Ocean” is an acrylic on canvas painting that is at once abstract and landscape. The foreground undulates with the ripples of clear water advancing over firm sand perfectly reminiscent of a Long Beach scene. As the viewer’s eye travels upward, the textures of the painted surface suggest breaking waves. In palette, it is quintessential west coast, with a crisp, clear sky that gradually deepens into cobalt. Yet in between the buff hues of sand and the intense blue of sky there exists a painting within, one that plays tricks with the horizon, presenting and re-presenting the meeting between sea and sky. A series of textures and contrasting colours pulls the viewers under the landscape surface and into an abstract realm before releasing them back to the sky.

It’s a fascinating effect, and one found in many of Kylee Turunen’s “abstract landscape” paintings. Some, like those in a series simply titled “Horizon” are more abstract overall. However, their basic composition—specifically, that horizontal that humans are, by definition, hard-wired to see as the Earth’s edge—keeps them firmly rooted within the landscape realm. 

That suits Turunen fine. The emerging artist is as equally intrigued by landscape as she is by playing with colour, texture and composition in more theoretical terms. In fact, her art practice began with a concern mainly for representational landscape work focusing on technical precision and verisimilitude. 

And it began not so long ago: At a mere 24 years old, Turunen’s career is stretched out before her. Her sense of herself as an artist, though, is completely assured. “I always wanted to be an artist,” she says. “I guess because my father was an artist, and I had that natural urge to create as well. I think when it became more serious, I was in grade nine or ten. I realized I had the skill behind it,” she says with characteristic humility. 

Born in London, Ontario, after high school she studied art for two years at Centennial College in Toronto. “I really got to experiment with different styles. I learned a lot—not really from the teachers so much, but just from my own experimentation,” she explains. 

That was where she first opened up to abstract art. “When I finally tried abstract art it really allowed me to be free with colour. I love combining different colours, just making a perfect harmony of colour in a painting. I felt like I could do that with abstract art, and I loved the different textures I could create.”

It was something of a revelation, since she grew up immersed in representational art making. Her father had a large studio where he painted oils and created the illustrations that were his livelihood. As a kid, Kylee spent much of her time there. “I guess I just always watched his art [making] and that gave me the idea of what art was,” she says.

These days, Turunen works in three different styles: abstract, landscape, and her unique combination of both. Using slow-drying acrylic paint, she will apply colour to canvas, then, in order to achieve the textures that so fascinate her, she uses a number of methods. Sometime she will apply spray paint to the still-wet paint surface, or combine water, glazing medium and mineral pigment, also spraying onto the surface to get varying effects. “Or I achieve textures with different brushes, or scrape some paint off with paper towel, or move it around—really whatever comes to me,” she describes. “Sometimes I will take a paper towel and just rest it on the surface to absorb. Really, its kind of just a fun experiment every time.” 

If there are representational elements—say, some wisps of cloud in the sky or a few trees in an otherwise abstract landscape—she will come in with a brush afterward and add those details. For the more abstract works, when a painting reaches a certain tightness, a resolved balance in colour and form, she knows it’s done. 

This is more instinctual with the abstract works, more to do with technical precision when she is working on a representational landscape. “It’s two opposite ways of painting, but that’s why I like them. I’m using different parts of my brain,” she laughs.

That desire to challenge herself as an artist is one thing about Turunen that impresses Dawn Casson, owner of The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm. “She’s really willing to continue to push herself to see what she’s capable of,” says Casson. Turunen has been showing for almost a year at The Gallery; she was “discovered” when an employee bought a painting from Turunen’s website and showed it to Casson. “The first few pieces we brought in were abstract landscape ocean and beach scenes. I just really liked the cleanness of them, her use of colour, everything; they just really spoke to me,” Casson recalls.

She continues to be impressed and surprised by Turunen’s output. In March, the Gallery held a floral show, and Casson asked Turunen to create a floral work, something she had not previously done. The result was “Irises.” “To me, it’s her most spectacular [work] to date,” Casson enthuses, adding that on more than one occasion, her paintings have not lasted more than 20 minutes in the gallery before being snapped up: “Her interpretation seems to speak to people. A lot of people just like the energy that comes off of them.”

While opting for a closeup view in the floral “Wild Irises,” the painting shows how Turunen’s representational work can verge on the photorealistic. In some landscapes, the effect is heightened by the application of a clear coat of epoxy resin over the surface of a painting, such as is the case with “Tofino Beach.” 

Again, the strong horizon line reflects the distant views that Turunen finds most compelling in the landscape. Sweeps of sea, sky and beach, far-off mountains, and the eternally grounding quality of the horizon continue to fascinate her. 

And she is eager to discover more of these to paint. She has lived in Victoria for four years and is now able to work at her art close to full-time. She is currently looking forward to explorations not just all over Vancouver Island, but also in the Rockies. “I haven’t really been to a lot of places,” she shares, “I really want to take the time to go on these adventures, take lots of photos, and make great art from them.” 

Turunen is just beginning, and it will be truly fascinating to see where she takes her already remarkable practice, and what horizons she will explore next. One thing that’s true, though, is as Casson says, “If this is what she’s capable of at 24, I just think the sky’s the limit for her.”

Whenever she is in need of feeling grounded, or connected to the rhythm, wonder and promise of this place, Aaren Madden tends to climb a hill or find a beach and seek out the horizon.