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Border in Four Parts 1977–78

Gathie Falk, Border in Four Parts, 1977–78

Gathie Falk, Border in Four Parts, 1977–78
Oil on canvas, 213.2 x 197.8 cm each
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Gathie Falk’s Border in Four Parts is a quadriptych painted in oil on canvas. Each of the four panels is more than 2 metres tall and a little less than 2 metres wide; overall, the work is grand in scale. It represents the eastern boundary of the garden at Falk’s home. The image on each panel overlaps with that on the next—this is not one image divided into four but a series of interconnected views that progress along the garden’s edge. The composition is rendered in fairly high detail so that the viewer gets the clear sense that they are witnessing something that has been painted from life. The application of paint is light in touch and the palette is pale, giving the impression that we are witnessing a site that is bathed in sunlight.


Gathie Falk, Border in Four Parts (detail), 1977–78, oil on canvas, 213.2 x 197.8 cm each, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

In 1968, Falk turned her focus to ceramic sculpture and performance art, and these artistic languages would be central to her practice for the next ten years. In 1977 she returned to painting, creating Border in Four Parts and the related Border series, 1977–78, depictions of the edges of the gardens at her own and neighbours’ homes. Falk worked from a series of Instamatic photographs, framed so that the content of each snapshot overlapped with that of the next. Using this methodology, Falk ensured that she captured every detail of the entire border.


While her painting style is personal, merging impressionistic and expressionistic vocabularies, in terms of her decisions about content, not a centimetre of the observed landscape was omitted. Moving from left to right, each of the panels builds upon the previous, adding detail to the content introduced in the one prior while adding new information about the unfolding scene. There is, then, a strong element of time in the serial composition of the Border series—the multiple canvases not only expand the size of the composition, they add dimension. This was obviously important to Falk, who infuses each work in this series with details of the interaction of light and colour that convey what time of day Falk’s eye—and camera—was moving across the border of her garden.


The accounting of her close-at-hand world—her garden, her home, her neighbourhood, and the firmament or ocean seen on a daily walk—would become an ongoing source of imagery, providing Falk with untold subjects for subsequent series: Thermal Blankets, 1979–80; Night Skies, 1979–80; Pieces of Water, 1981–82; Cement, 1982–83; and later, Hedges and Clouds, 1989–90. In each of these bodies of work, we see how Falk transforms the everyday into the singular through her commitment to the veneration of the ordinary.


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