Article by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jody Beck. Paintings courtesy of Kylee Turunen.
Kylee Turunen‘s fascination with paint spans her entire lifetime, beginning with her introduction to finger painting by her mother at the tender age of only 3 months. Graduating from fingers to brush, the now 26-year-old captures the essence of the west coast’s splendor and serenity with a discernment beyond her years. With a deft touch and a palette ranging from soft hues of cerulean blue to bold strokes of gold, red and orange, Turunen’s works pay homage to the mutable colours of British Columbia’s sea and sky. Her glowing, almost abstract works invite the viewer to share in her transcendental reflections on what it means to live by ocean and mountain.
Originally from Ontario, Turunen captures transparent blankets of mist and undulating ripples on the ocean’s surface with an undeniable west coast sensibility. Free of any human life forms, her high contrast paintings perceptively document Vancouver Island’s expansive skies, calm seas, soaring gulls, and trees that almost touch the sky. Much like her vast abstracts firmly rooted in the horizon line, this young artist’s future is wide open.
Turunen is currently showing her work at The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm. MHV visited her home studio to find out what it was like to grow up with a professional artist for a father, the meaning behind her ubiquitous horizon lines and what the future holds for Kylee Turunen.Describe your upbringing in Ontario with an artist father. I was the second oldest in a family of four girls. Through my mother’s creative encouragement, I began creating art when I was just three months old. Starting with finger painting as a young child, I was always doing arts and crafts with my sisters and eventually moved on to more intricate projects in adolescence.
I spent hours watching my father work on paintings and commercial illustration projects in his home studio. He would often give me a blank canvas, acrylic paints and creative freedom to paint whatever I wanted. When I was five, my kindergarten teacher said she was going to save some of my artwork because she thought I was going to be a famous artist one day.Do you believe people are born artists? Art has always been a very significant part of my life. I believe people can inherit artistic talent; my grandmother still talks about how at age two my father was able to draw a perfect circle. I do feel some people are born with a natural ability, but the environment in which one is raised can be as equally as important as genetics. Growing up surrounded by a creative and supportive family, where art and expression were encouraged, I was presented with the perfect environment to nurture my artistic side.
Describe the process of becoming a professional artist. How did you find your direction as a fine artist in Victoria? In 2009, I finished a two-year fine art program at the Centennial College of Toronto. For the next four years, I experimented with different painting styles while researching various artistic styles and techniques online. Initially, I created a series of abstract paintings, entitled “Earth Movements.” These paintings were compositions involving flowing abstract shapes in vibrant colours. Upon completion of that series, my focus shifted to the creation of abstract paintings with slightly more recognizable landscape forms within each piece. Continuing to paint in this style today, I am evolving this approach into more representational landscape paintings as well.What brought you to Victoria from Ontario? As an artist, I was drawn to the beautiful scenery and environment that British Columbia offers. Victoria seemed like the right choice, specifically because of its balance between city life and its diverse natural surroundings. Victoria just has so much natural beauty. Known for being an artsy city, I felt my art would be welcomed and appreciated in Victoria.
How did you connect with The Gallery at Matticks Farm? What is unique about this particular gallery? After living in Victoria for a couple years, I started selling my art online. I sold a couple paintings to a woman who worked at The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm and she eventually introduced me to the gallery owner, Dawn Casson. I started showing my artwork at her gallery shortly after. The reception to my art was very positive and many of my paintings sold and continue to sell, allowing me to work as a full-time artist to this day. The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm has a very welcoming atmosphere, and they support emerging artists in a broad variety of styles.
You are so prolific in abstract, landscape realism and a unique combination of both. What inspires you to move between these different styles? Always drawn to shapes, colour, and composition of abstract art, abstraction allows me to be more expressive in my creations. However, I also enjoy working with fine details and intricacy. Painting realistic landscapes satisfies my desire to work closely with precision and challenge my ability to perceive. Combining abstract with realism allows me to bring a unique quality to my artwork. My fusion of the two styles seems more subjective, providing the viewer a sense of freedom to individually enjoy the piece.The horizon seems a regular subject in your work; can you speak to its significance? The horizon gives the feeling of expansion and freedom, showing vast, beautiful open skies with a panoramic view. Horizons allow for simplicity, without too much detail, within a minimalist scene. My intention is to create a sense of openness and expansion.
What drives you to get up every day and paint? I paint because I can; it is what I am here to do. Everyone has their our own unique gifts and I believe that creating artwork is my gift, my purpose. I paint to bring joy, not just for myself, but to others who experience my work. I’ve never been able to understand the concept of painting something “ugly” or negative; I don’t see the sense in it. I paint to make this world a little more beautiful.
With a consistent theme of nature, you are obviously inspired by the natural wonders of the west coast. Do you spend a lot of time exploring the coast as a part of your process? To be honest, I would love to explore even more of British Columbia’s landscape. My process involves working from photos of BC’s natural beauty that I have captured on camping trips with friends and family. Walking along the gorgeous beaches and through lush forests of Vancouver Island would inspire any artist or nature lover.
In the creation of my abstract landscape paintings, I start by coming up with a design in photoshop, often juxtaposing multiple photographs into an image. Other times, I have images in my mind that I cannot design on the computer and just start painting on a blank canvas. Other times I will stop, take a photo of the work in process, adjust and play with it in photoshop, and then continue painting. When painting representational landscapes, I work from photo reference, often adjusting the photo in photoshop first.Your work has been described as having an ineffable “energy.” Can you speak to this? I believe an artist puts their own energy and feeling into each and every painting. My work emanates my energy, combined with an interpretation of the energy and beauty found in nature. Artists often use their intuition and feeling, even if they are unaware of it. My art has its own unique vibration, just like every piece of art.What are you currently working on? I am creating several new abstract landscape paintings on cradled wood panel. Some of these will be more intricate and others will be simplistic with bold colours. My goal is to enhance the vibrancy of the colours by adding epoxy resin to the finished pieces.