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Artist Gillian King

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Gillian King is a painter, art educator, and art therapist-in-training from Treaty One Territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba and holds an MFA from the University of Ottawa (2016). She is the winner of the 2019 Espronceda Centre for the Arts and Culture Artistic Prize (Barcelona, Spain), the 2017 RBC Emerging Artist Award, as well as the recipient of the 2017 Nancy Petry Award. King is in the process of obtaining her Art Therapy certification through the Toronto Art Therapy Institute and works with seniors living in long term care at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, CareFor Health and Community Services, and the Dementia Society (Ottawa, On). She is also an artist mentor through the Ottawa School of Art and BEING Studio (Ottawa, On).

King has shown in galleries and participated in residencies nationally and internationally. In 2016, she exhibited a solo show, ‘Becoming Animal’, at the Ottawa Art Gallery and in 2017 was chosen as the Ontario representative in the Robert McLaughlin Gallery's 50th Anniversary Exhibition, 'Ab NEXT' (Oshawa, Ontario) featuring five emerging abstract painters from across Canada. In summer 2018 her work was included in ‘Coetus Floreus’ and in spring 2019 she exhibited, ‘Sediment’, a solo exhibition with Galerie Nicolas Robert (Montreal, Quebec). King’s work was recently featured in Border Crossings Magazine (Gillian King, September 2019, Issue 151, Rhiannon Vogl), and CBC Gem’s ‘The Art in Nature: Gathering’ . In 2020, King exhibited her work in ‘Fossil Record’ curated by Tatum Dooley at General Hardware Contemporary (Toronto, On) and with Casa Pixan II (Mexico City, Mx). She looks forward to being a part of the City of Ottawa’s Direct Purchase Program exhibition (December 12, 2020) as well as a solo exhibition ‘As Above So Below’ at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annexe (March, 2021).

Through abstract painting, I aim to connect ancient art practices to our changing geographical landscapes in order to address our mutual fragility, mortality, and histories with other living beings and the Earth. I draw from elements of ecology, palaeontology, and earth-based spirituality. "With this new series of work, Gillian King bears witness to patterns that entangle lifeforms at different scales. A reference to the phrase used in many belief systems, including Tarot, astrology, and sacred geometry, the series’s title invites us to look up and down, to recognize how the microcosm and the macrocosm behave alike, mirroring one other. Equally, it is a call to look around to recognize the myriad ways in which all life on Earth – human and other-than-human – is mutually dependent. On the heels of a global pandemic that lays bare our shared porosities and vulnerabilities and intensifies deadly consequences of interrelated global crises ranging from racial capitalism to climate catastrophe and species extinction, As Above, So Below takes on even greater meaning. It begs us to consider the webs and relations of care that are necessary for all species’ mutual survival and thriving. An interplay of chaos and control marks each canvas. Ceding some agency to the unpredictability of natural dyeing processes, King collaborates with her materials and their diverse temporalities. Rather than controlling non-human life forms, as is dominant in this era marked by extractivism and anthropocentrism, King honours the agency, life, and death of her collaborators. The dye process for each canvas resulted in a powerful symmetry, above and below, side to side, that echoes patterns in nature. You may recognize these symmetries as natural geometries in our human bodies, moth wings, and pollen, to name a few. You may also recognize familiar textures – ones that stir up images of melting snow, eroding rock, sand, soil, and moss formations on the ground as much as they do images of celestial textures like clouds, stars, and the milky way. Painted shapes in Lamb’s Ear echoes the velvety leaves of the beloved plant of the same name, as well as the ears of lambs themselves. Arachnoid, with its vibrant green lines arching outward also evoke spider-like shapes, resonating with arachnids, spider-plants, and architectural forms alike. Meanwhile, in Alveoli, the reddish cochineal stains evoke the tiny air sacs in our lungs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide into our bloodstream. Considered together, these works speak and breathe with one another, from gardens to respiratory systems, bubbling with stories of life."

- Gabrielle Doiron, MA, PHD Student in Human Geography (Toronto, On)

1: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the arts. I am a painter, art educator, and art therapist-in-training from Treaty One Territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I graduated from the University of Ottawa MFA program in 2016 and am currently in the process of obtaining my Art Therapy certification through the Toronto Art Therapy Institute. I work and create art with individuals living in long term care and in the community living with Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. Prior to working in healthcare, I was a visual arts professor and worked in commercial art galleries. 2: What kind of work are you currently making? I am currently creating large-scale abstract paintings using oil paint and pigments from flowers, vegetables, plants, and insects. My process incorporates gardening, gathering, printmaking, oil painting, and fiber art processes like eco-printing. My paintings are a place for me to explore my relationship to the world and the interconnectedness of all living beings. Through the creation of my paintings, I am continuously learning more about the world around me, how to work sustainably and respectfully, while exercising patience and intention through my work (an ongoing endeavor!). 3: What is a day like in the studio for you? This really depends on the day and season! In the spring, summer, and fall I usually start in the garden by watering, tending to, and harvesting my dye plants. Some of my studio days will involve me boiling down black walnuts or ironing canvases while others can look like a more traditional painting day where I’m working with oil paint and spending long periods of time staring at a canvas, deciding when and where to intervene. Being in school and working shift work in healthcare makes for an unpredictable studio schedule so I currently work in 3-6 hour stints. Podcasts, dancing, earl grey tea, and sugar cookies also play a role in my creative process... 4: What are you looking at right now and/or reading? Being in art therapy school, I am currently reading a lot of psychotherapy and art therapy-related journal articles and texts. When I started working in long term care three years ago, I discovered a passion for the intersection between art and psychology so much of my reading list serves to explore the questions of why art-making can be so integral to well-being and why we as humans are consistently drawn to it. My next reads are The Creative Arts in Palliative Care edited by Nigel Hartley and Malcolm Payne and Life at the End of Life by Marcia Brennan. Not for the faint of heart but I am counterbalancing the heaviness with a fun Greek mythology read (Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller). Another recent book that had an impact on me was The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. The book is set in 1918 during the Great Influenza in Ireland. The protagonist is a nurse working in the maternity fever ward in a Dublin hospital. At one point, she explains that the word “influenza” is short for influenza delle stelle, meaning “the influence of the stars”. I took solace reading this book since it felt comforting to know that humanity has been through periods like the one we’re in now and made it through. I named one of my most recent paintings after this book since the title speaks to the celestial qualities of the painting and is also a reflection of what I was experiencing when the painting was made. 5: Where can we find more of your work? You can find my work on my website (, Instagram (@agillianking), and I currently have a solo exhibition ‘As Above, So Below’ on at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annexe in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (March 4 - April 18, 2021):

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