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Genocide: Life, Death and In-between An exhibition of work by Artist karel Doruyter

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Life, Death and In-between

Karel Doruyter began the “Genocide Series” in 2004. Initially it was the annual visits to Haida Gwaii and seeing the rapidly deteriorating totems that influenced the start of this series. Each painting reflected some part of what was seen or felt viewing these scenes many times. The painting gradually changed and became a personal internal process, as well as a chronological sequence of man's inhumanity to man. It is a journey into the dark and a possibility of leaving it.

Karel Doruyter

Born in Rotterdam, Holland , Karel Doruyter emigrated with his sister and parents to Canada in 1953 settling in the interior of British Columbia. After high school he attended UBC from 1961 to 1968, first taking fine arts and philosophy then social psychology. During his student years he worked as a graphic artist and draughtsman to help pay for his education. After university Karel spent a number of years working as an industrial psychologist in Canada and Australia where he became interested in boat building. Marine design, construction and sailing took him to different parts of the world. This enabled him to pursue his long time interest in painting and drawing finally making it his career in the early 90’s. He has a son in Victoria and a daughter with three grandchildren on Gabriola Island.

Doruyter has had a large number of solo and group exhibitions in Canada, USA and Australia. He is a signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and the Island Illustrator’s Society. His paintings are sold internationally and can be found in both private and corporate collections. He has written and/or illustrated a number of books, covers, periodicals and journals.

"The artist sounds these sombre chords with sonorous colour, brushing in a reflected light that sets up a deep darkness. These are meditations on the strength of the human spirit and the inevitability of its dissolution." - Robert Amos, Times Colonist (Victoria), March 23, 2006

On a small island, on the west coast of the southern part of Haida Gwaii is the old village site of SGang Gwaay.

On one end there is a small group of old poles that were partially burned some years ago. Over time the damage, rain and wind have changed the original carving into something not recognizable in the traditional way. They are not part of the park reserve visitors’ tour.

Having lived on the islands for six years and returned a number of times, these poles have drawn me time and time again.

Witness, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Requiem, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas

Several years ago, one that I call Witness, finally told me the story that launched this series. Through its haunted visage I heard the demise of a once great nation that ruled the far west coast of British Columbia. Other images Requiem, Fallen and Judged joined in, telling me how they entered the ranks of peoples and cultures in other parts of the world that were vanquished by deceit, jealousy and hate. Powerful chiefs and great men, Imperator, were crushed and broken, unable to speak for their nation. When force, Carnage, was not enough, the subjugators used biological and chemical methods, Plague, to destroy and decimate an entire race or culture, Genocide. The visual story took on a universal meaning of man’s inhumanity to man, Holocaust. With this there is no hope for either the vanquished or the vanquisher, Fallen Angel.

Fallen, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas
Judged, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas
Imperator, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Carnage, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas
Plague, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Genocide, 24" x 30" , acrylic on canvas
Holocaust, 24" x 30", acrylic on canvas
Fallen Angel, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas

The Gatekeeper allows entry into the underworld that goes by many names, Hell, Gehenna, Tartarus, Naraka, Niflheim, Tophet or Erebus. The souls are greeted by the ruler of that kingdom, Lucifer with his beast the 4th Horseman. The hell on earth and the hell after are no different for those who dwell there. Despair, Torment, Tortura and Anguish have no favourites and the pain is eternal.

Gate Keeper, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas
Lucifer, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
4th Horseman, 24'' x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Despair, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Torment, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Tortura, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas
Anguish, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas

The Abandoned have dreams of the past and face those Accused of their crimes. There is endless Denial, perhaps for some who recognize their atrocities Atonement, with eventual entry into Purgatory and the disappearance into blackness, Nullity.

Abandoned, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Accused, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Denial, 24" x 18", acrylic on canvas
Atonement, 24" x 18", acrylic on canvas,
Purgatory, 24" x 18", acrylic on canvas
Nullity, 24" x 18", Acrylic on canvas

Those who have Faith may have a Choice. Resurrection is not only a Christian concept, although they often claim it as their own. Where it goes from here is also a real faith question. Using the theory of opposites one can surmise that where there is “bad” there has to be “good”, where there is “punishment” there has to be “reward”, where there is “hell” there must be a “heaven”. On the other hand this does not have to be a universal theory; it might only be one of specifics, in which case the only choice is entry into Chaos. Like one of the main theories on the creation of the universe, it is that region of total energy which eventually returns to order, Metamorphosis. To follow this theory further, this new order will have a genetic memory, Remembrance, and find peace and rebirth in Sanctuary.

Faith, 24" x 30", acrylic on canvas
Choice, 24" x 18", Acrylic on Canvas
Resurrection, 24" x 30", acrylic on canvas
Choas, 24 x 18", acrylic on canvas
Metamorphosis, 24" x 30", acrylic on canvas
Remembrance, 24" x 30", Acrylic on Canvas
Sanctuary, 24" x 30", acrylic on canvas

The Genocide Series

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"On a small island, on the west coast of the southern part of Haida Gwaii, is the old village site of SGang Gwaay. On one end, there is a small group of old poles that were partially burned some years ago. Over time, the damage, rain and wind have changed the original carving into something not recognizable in the traditional way."

Karel Doruyter

Karel Doruyter has sailed the Pacific, from Tasmania to Haida Gwaii, in boats he built himself. He has degrees in fine art and psychology, and is also a registered marine surveyor. He's an author and illustrator, and he created topographic bathymetric models for Parks Canada. He has painted an orca for the B.C. Lions and has been on the executive of Island Illustrators and the Victoria Chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists. This is a man who has seen a bit of the world.

The 64-year-old's current project is the Death Series. It's not for the faint of heart, the artist warns us. In fact, it's dark and dangerous, and it rendered me silent and awestruck. I think this series should be more widely known.

Here are totems, fragments of burnt carvings. Some are weathered, the cedar bleached like bones. Others are burnt, still smouldering. Flame light flickers across them. Or is it the heat of lava, radiating elemental fire from the rocks beneath?

The charred wood-carvings Doruyter presents are returning to their organic origins. They look like skulls. No -- wait -- these actually are skulls looking back at us. Howling mouths, some with teeth in place, hollow eye sockets, still alive with pinpricks of light. The skulls of men merge with salmon skulls in the rank forest -- food, people, carvings, bones.

Some skulls have eyes like windows in which we see silent, sundrenched beaches backed with totem poles. In the midst of death, the tide goes in and the tide goes out. Doruyter paints forest, ferns and dewdrops that drip into splashing rivulets and spill into a pool. A skull looks back from the shadows beneath the waters.

Doruyter's medium is unique. Wanting more texture in his already sophisticated paintings, he developed a "mastic" of plaster of paris and acrylic gel. Trowelling this velvety goop on to pressboard panels, he worked it, wet and dry, with all manner of tools to achieve utterly convincing surfaces representing wood, bone, feather, stone and leaf. His masterful painting completes the low-relief illusion. I forget the technique and believe in what he is showing me.

There are 30 pieces in the show, paintings not large but powerfully engaging. These are not simply pictures, but poetry. Doruyter creates visual metaphors that swiftly, wordlessly lead us through level after level -- from thought to feeling to deep effect.

The effect is not just about the depth and darkness of the Haida experience. All our human aspirations are seen to rise out of, and fall back into, a landscape vast and sublime. Even on my third time around the gallery, the imagery encoded in these haunting forms yielded new surprises.

At first, I was carried away by Doruyter's unique and convincing technique. Then I took time to calm down and let the pieces begin to speak. No titles or explanations interfered. All of us have the imagery encoded into our brains by the nightly news. The mass graves of Sarajevo. Flames of the Iraqi oil fields. Unspeakable human degradation in B.C.'s residential schools. Volcanoes. Pandemics.

The artist sounds these sombre chords with sonorous colour, brushing in a reflected light that sets up a deep darkness. These are meditations on the strength of the human spirit and the inevitability of its dissolution. "It happens again and again," Doruyter says. "Mankind never seems to learn."

© Robert Amos, Times Colonist (Victoria), March 23, 2006

Credits:

Photos Courtesy of the Artist.

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