There is a particular time of the year when the sun sets directly along the east-west axis of Toronto’s main thoroughfares. It makes the evening’s commute hazardous if you’re heading west (and, I suppose, if you’re eastbound and heading toward the blinded drivers going the other way). Despite the dangers, it also provides the perfect opportunity to view the city as a modern age Stonehenge with parallel monoliths cleaving sunlight into illuminated strips. That flattening of skyscrapers into silhouettes divided by an overpowering glow is exactly what Wanda Koop replicates in her new exhibition, In Absentia, at Division Gallery. However, what might sound like an exercise in landscape painting actually has a lot more in common with Op Art and the trippier end of Abstract Expressionism when you really lay your eyes on it.

Wanda Koop, In Absentia (Luminous Red — Rose — Deep Magenta), 2015, acrylic on canvas on stretcher

 Except for a handful of failed experiments that could have been edited out of the exhibition, all of the paintings are basically the same: one field of colour dominates and represents the buildings, while a second colour represents the shards of empty space where the light shines through. Koop turns this repetition into a platform for endless variation with searing combinations of color. Like an optical illusion that flickers between two states, figure and ground fluctuate between what we know it to be and what we see. The texture of the washes and the hints of additional complimentary colours that line the edges of these concrete valleys add more surprising details to a seemingly uniform collection.

Wanda Koop, In Absentia (Horizon Blue — Luminous Red), 2015, acrylic on linen on stretcher

 This body of work came about during Koop’s recent stay in New York City. As she watched the Manhattan skyline from her Brooklyn studio, she must have sat through a lot of sunsets because her use of colour reflects the wide spectrum of hues contained in natural light that are revealed in the minutes before nightfall. But these paintings are as much about how your eye receives light as they are a depiction of how light behaves out there in the world. As such, they work wonders when assembled en mass, each one contradicting and complimenting the next. One on its own would miss the scope and cumulative power of the gallery-filling exhibition (though the electric neon pink one is plenty arresting when viewed up close). As a whole they make for a fine afternoon of immersion care of a painter who has the skills to turn blank canvas into windows full of radiating brilliance.

Division Gallery:
 Wanda Koop: In Absentia continues until October 8.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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