Artist Russna Kaur Invites You to “Look Carefully” With Her Paintings

When you see Russna Kaur’s paintings, you are first met with broad brushstrokes, beautiful bold colours, layers of paint that are peeled away and then layered again. You experience thick textural patterns created from her brush, unconventional materials like wax, saw dust, flour, children’s crayons and spray-paint in combination with traditional acrylic paint, gel and matte medium. Her paintings tower from floor to ceiling on gallery walls, and then her small-scale pieces can draw you in and create an intimate moment between the viewer and the harmonious textures.

Russna Kaur - Ironing, bored., acrylic, oil, latex and sawdust on multiple canvases, 144 x 108 in., 2019
Russna Kaur – Ironing, bored., acrylic, oil, latex and sawdust on multiple canvases, 144 x 108 in., 2019

Russna Kaur was born in 1991, Brampton, Ontario, and is an artist living and working in Vancouver, BC. She received her BA with honours from Waterloo University with a Studio Specialization in 2013, and as of 2019 holds a Master of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University of Arts + Design. Her painting practice expanded while pursuing her MFA. As Emily Carr University is an art university, this was the first time Kaur was fully immersed in the art school setting, and this allowed further space and contemplation to experiment with the different surfaces and textures that she uses in her practice today. She draws inspiration and her bold colour palette from her surroundings, her Punjabi heritage, including her upbringing in Brampton Ontario, and the Indian wedding industry.

Russna Kaur - Fixed, faith, freedom (left), acrylic, pastel and spray paint on canvas, cotton, velvet and silk, 168 in. x 216 in., 2021
Russna Kaur – Fixed, faith, freedom (left), acrylic, pastel and spray paint on canvas, cotton, velvet and silk, 168 in. x 216 in., 2021

Kaur also enjoys creating a sense of wonder and speculation with her paintings. She recounts visiting various spaces that are influential to her practice such as amusement parks, flea-markets, and several religious and spiritual spaces, all of which instil a sense of wonder and ask you to pause and pay attention to the details around you. In addition to her heritage and surroundings being a massive inspiration, as a child of the 1990s she also remembers Scholastic I Spy books, Where’s Waldo, and Polly Pocket playing a large role in her artistic growth—the act of training your eye to look carefully.

Russna Kaur - What wasn't there before 1 & 2, acrylic, lined paper, cut canvas, pastel and masonite board on wood panel, 108 in. x 96 in.
Russna Kaur – What wasn’t there before 1 & 2, acrylic, lined paper, cut canvas, pastel and masonite board on wood panel, 108 in. x 96 in.

When beginning a painting, Kaur uses multiple surfaces (usually stretched canvas or wood panel) and arranges them on the wall to create one unified composition. She will then rearrange the panels as she progresses in order to abstract the work even more. She uses colour and texture to direct attention to certain parts of her compositions that the viewer may not notice unless they were to pause and spend active time with the painting. These hidden details can be the imperfections created with the layering and peeling away of the paint, the sudden shift in colours, or at times a hidden doodle of a UFO at the very top of a multicoloured seven-foot-tall landscape. These moments of observation are important to her despite the bold jewel-tones and fluorescent colours, and the overwhelming sense of wonder and joy she tries to evoke at times with her paintings.

Burnt away in layers of clouds, they fall slowly suspended in air…free as a gift, 144 x 102 in., acrylic, spray paint, pastel, paper, felt, crayon, found wood and cut canvas on wood panel, velvet, canvas, silk and cotton. 2021.

“We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at our surroundings,” she says. “What are the invisible aspects of someone or something we can learn about [by just spending time with them]?” She reflects on how we represent ourselves as people, using our accessories as a form of body armour to mask our anxieties or insecurities. She leaves imperfections in her panels so from a distance, the viewer sees a strong confident painting, but only when you pause and get closer you see its vulnerabilities. Some of the colours that she uses including fuchsia pink, orange, gold, yellow, and royal blues to name a few, are colours she has become familiar with through her family’s connection to the Indian wedding industry. A lot of these colours represent a way of thinking that have evolved since her childhood—using boldness and confidence to mask any shyness, anxieties, or imperfections. Her paintings hold space for that, almost acting as a “map that is revealing, concealing, tracing, revisiting, and processing layers of [her] identity”.

Russna Kaur - Neat and tidy - echoing again and again, acrylic, spray paint, oil stick and sawdust on canvas and wood panel, 192 x 108 in., 2022.
Russna Kaur – Neat and tidy – echoing again and again, acrylic, spray paint, oil stick and sawdust on canvas and wood panel, 192 x 108 in., 2022.

Having her studio practice in Vancouver, BC has certainly influenced Kaur’s work. The geographical terrain influences the sentiments Kaur experiments with, such as the vastness of the landscape and the ways in which it can encourage you to contemplate your place in the world. This sense of sublime is what she intends to capture in her large-scale paintings. Russna Kaur maintains a studio practice in Vancouver, BC and teaches painting at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Her work can be found on her website at www.russnakaur.com. Her piece “Maze of control and the slightest chaos” will be a part of the Outdoor Banner Series at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives in Brampton, ON; and she will have an independent project at the Remai Modern and 330G artist-run centre in Saskatoon this Fall. Her work will also be included in an upcoming group show at the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art opening September 24th 2022 in Vancouver.

Russna Kaur - They are midway between the sun and the moon, acrylic, cold wax, sand, cut canvas and pastel on wood panel, canvas, raw silk and cotton. 192 x 108 in., 2020
Russna Kaur – They are midway between the sun and the moon, acrylic, cold wax, sand, cut canvas and pastel on wood panel, canvas, raw silk and cotton. 192 x 108 in., 2020