Written by Sophia Lapres
Ian Wallace
Untitled (Monoprint with Mustard), 1990

Ian Wallace has long engaged with representations of locale. Many of his works draw from Vancouver’s urban environment and history, and focus primarily on questions of space. These pieces often feature large monochromatic sections, sometimes printed with plywood patterns. I have found these plywood monoprints to be particularly interesting aspects of Wallace’s composition, as they impart materiality. Plywood, after being sourced from fallen timber, is converted into a more versatile material through processing. This material is then used to expand the urban environment, which creates further encroachment into the natural landscape. The artist’s use of the plywood print not only challenges our relationship to the materials used in the spaces we inhabit, but also reflects on Canada’s history.

Wallace creates a dialogue with Canadian history through the symbol of plywood. Canada’s dense forests define the country’s identity. The vast expanses of land are what originally drew Europeans to colonize the country; Canada’s spaciousness and natural resources, including timber, were hugely appealing to the colonizers. In his work, Wallace uses the familiar texture of wood grain to evoke both artificial and natural environments. The plywood board’s surface is dynamic, each ply’s wood grain is warped after its unraveling from the cylindrical trunk and punctuated with knots, recalling the material’s original form. We can fully appreciate Wallace’s symbolic use of plywood within the three monochrome monoprints, Monoprint With Burgundy, Monoprint With Mustard, and Monoprint with Green, all dating 1990. Each canvas features a monochrome stamped in black ink with an imprint of a plywood board. The entire space of the canvas is dedicated to the plywood’s impression. The three canvases mimic the dimensions of a standard plywood board while simultaneously evoking the monumental scale of Canadian landscape paintings. Landscape painting is regarded as European Canada’s most successful foray into artistic production. The Group of Seven’s landscape paintings made a huge contribution to the country’s art history. The three monoprints’ monumentality mimics the dimensions often employed by the Group of Seven painters. Their scale is reinforced through an unusually high wall mount: the three works dominate the space.

Ian Wallace
Construction Site (Barcelona Series I-V), 1991

Guests often remark upon the wood grain texture, it comes across as both familiar and unfamiliar—its source material sitting at the tip of your tongue. The material of plywood is at once organic and engineered. Wallace takes advantage of this duality in Construction Site (Barcelona Series I-V) (1991), a work he created while in Spain. The colossal work explores the relationship between the natural and artificial aspects of the cityscape. In depicting his current environment, Wallace continues the practice of engaging with one’s landscape. Five photographs of buildings under various stages of construction are bookended by narrow plywood impressed stripes, presented on a stretched canvas surface. These sections have been interpreted as telephone poles, tree trunks, or the pattern left in concrete after concrete forming. I think these various interpretations speak to the ubiquitous nature of lumber. Processed wood is integral to the urban environment’s development. The canvas representing the dead tree and a cement truck in the near background makes this concept especially clear. Construction Site considers the source of the city’s building blocks and the effects these extractions and developments have on the natural environment. The creation of new spaces for human use inevitably causes the destruction of a prior environment, either natural or urban. Construction Site depicts these transitory moments— mounds of earth, raw materials and construction equipment create a chaotic atmosphere of change and human influence. The Construction Site (Olympic Village) (2011) applies these concepts to the context of Vancouver through a similar compositional treatment of his photographic material.

Wallace’s combination of plywood prints and photographs in collaged compositions draw attention to materiality and space. In Clayoquot Protest (1993-1995) Wallace presents a photo-collage featuring nine canvases, each with a section of photojournalistic imagery taken by the artist. The work functions as a documentary, we are presented with meditations on human interferences within their environments. The photographs depict 200 squatters protesting the clear-cut logging of Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. The Clayoquot protest heralded the beginning of a new appreciation of land for non-Aboriginal Canadians. Wallace’s choice to document what became the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canada to date solidifies this moment within the contemporary art realm.* The artist departs from a purely aesthetic engagement within his art making to investigate an influential moment in British Columbia’s history.

Ian Wallace
The Quarry, Serre di Rapolano I and II, 1998

Wallace’s politically minded examinations of the environment that started with the Clayoquot Protest can be found in his later works. The Quarry, Serre di Rapolano I and II (1998) combines this political aspect with an aesthetic use of the plywood print. In it, Wallace dissects a single photograph of an Italian marble quarry into two and the gaps left by this dissection are filled with plywood monoprinted rectangles. Wallace pays special attention to the pattern of the printed wood grain, allowing for a knot in the wood to mimic a sun or moon in the sky, and a seam to double as a horizon line. Through his attention to the material, the quarry’s role as a space for resource extraction becomes the central focus. The deconstruction of the landscape to allow for the extraction of material resources is mimicked through the physical cutting of the image into several pieces. The plywood’s symbolic role within Wallace’s practice reinforces this attention to the landscape and resource extraction, setting this environmentally concerned work within the canon of similarly minded pieces. Drawing from the same subject matter as Canadian landscape painters, Wallace broadens the dialogue of landscape representation to include the medium of photography.

Wallace’s works read as public acknowledgements of the environment, both artificial and natural. Their attention to materials provides a meditation on the underlying structures and processes that influence our cities and ecosystems. The “concrete jungle” can exist only through the razing of the natural environment, something that Wallace’s use of plywood understands and questions. Investigations of the natural and urban environments have always been central to Wallace’s work. Our world’s current environmental state adds poignancy to Wallace’s works that only seem to become more relevant with time, developing patinas of reference.

*Tindall, David. “Twenty Years After the Protest, What we Learned From the Clayoquot Sound”. The National, Web.