Gillian King

#CouncilSpotlight – Gillian King

Jennifer Clark

Photo Credit: Julia Martin

Gillian King: Moving Forward in a Destructive Time

The Ottawa Arts Council supports artists and arts organizations through leadership, guidance and the provision of opportunities to advance our local creative potential.

Our series #CouncilSpotlight presents stories and experiences of Arts Council members and art award recipients.

Gillian received the RBC Emerging Artist Award in 2017.

Gillian King

Photo Credit: Olivia Johnston


How did you get involved in the Ottawa arts community?

Ottawa welcomed me in very quickly and I have met so many amazing artists, art enthusiasts, and patrons here. I moved to Ottawa in 2013 and within two weeks I started working with Guy Berube at La Petite Mort Gallery, found a studio at the Rectory Art House and, shortly after, I was teaching painting classes through Wallack’s.

In 2014, I began the MFA program at the University of Ottawa. In my second semester, I interned at PDA Projects, a contemporary art gallery in Ottawa run by MFA graduate Brendan A. de Montigny. PDA Projects began representing me in 2016.

In Fall 2016, I graduated with my MFA from the University of Ottawa, where I had my final thesis show ‘Becoming Animal’ at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Following this, I was offered a studio at Enriched Bread Artists in Little Italy and began working as a Gallery Assistant with Galerie St. Laurent + Hill in the Byward Market. From late 2017 to early 2018, I worked in Europe (Germany, France, and Iceland) and I am now back in Ottawa, working from my Enriched Bread Artists studio.

How would you describe your artistic practice/discipline?

Through large scale abstract painting, I attempt to connect ancient art practices and our changing geographical landscapes, as a way to address our collective histories, mutual fragility and mortality with other living beings and the Earth. I draw from elements of ecology, paleontology, politics, mysticism and the occult, making use of specific materials (including plant and vegetable matter, hair, animal ashes, sand, dirt, and raw pigments) for their physical properties and symbolic relevance. Through abstract painting, I explore ways in which we may move forward in this destructive environmental time. I question what it is to be a human animal and explore possible ways to reconnect with nature and other living beings.

What impact has your involvement with the arts/the Ottawa arts community had on your life?

My art practice has matured and flourished since moving to Ottawa. Becoming involved in the Ottawa arts community has allowed me to build confidence in my work, build lasting friendships, and exhibit my paintings in various galleries throughout the city. I find Ottawa’s art community to be inclusive and supportive - similar to Winnipeg’s art scene where my art career began.

Is there a specific moment/situation in your art career that you remember fondly?

There are endless fond moments. One recent memory: I spent a month at an artist residency called NES in a rural fishing town called Skagastrond in Northwestern Iceland this January.

It was my first day in the large communal studio, which was a former fish factory. I was still meeting all of the other artists in the space. Shortly after arriving, a lively Scottish filmmaker came over to my new studio. She introduced herself as Rianne and asked to use my gas mask so she could clean a seal paw she found on the beach. She then said, “Hey - you’re the artist looking for the dye plants right?” I nodded.

“Well let’s take you to the beach. We’ll get you some seaweed and I’ll show you where I find the bones!” An immediate connection was formed. Two weirdo artists, making smelly sea art in our studios.

For me, residencies are one of the most magical parts of being an artist. You meet new friends and fellow artists, explore different parts of the world, and you are given the time and space to work in ways you may not be able to in your normal day to day.

Gillian King

Photo Credit: Elke Fiebig

Do you have any advice for artists in the Ottawa community or artists in general?

Work hard. Make friends. Make art that excites you and ask for what you want. Develop resilience when receiving rejection letters and remember that all artists receive rejection letters. I find the best thing to do with those is to physically, and mentally, destroy them and direct your focus on the next applications.

What are you currently working on?

This past fall I began working and researching in preparation for an upcoming solo show, Ghosts, with PDA Projects in April. I had a studio in Berlin, Germany, and spent the fall and winter months travelling across Europe researching cave paintings, geological formations and volcanic activity.

I began working with an eco-fashion designer in Berlin, named Elke Fiebig of Still Garments. Elke taught me how to dye my canvases with local plants. This new approach has required me to drastically slow down my process.

Physically searching for my materials is a slow, but incredibly rewarding, process. Through this material gathering, I am able to get a deeper and more intimate understanding of my surroundings, the materials I am working with, as well as our (my and the plants’) function in the local ecosystem. I gather plant materials that can be used as lightfast dyes, as well as geologic sediments that can be used on the surfaces of my canvases. I also gather foodstuffs that would normally be composted, like avocado pits and onion skins for their pigments.

To gain insights around the themes in my work, I have been reading authors that challenge and build on the idea of the Anthropocene such as ‘Staying with the Trouble’ (Donna Haraway), ‘Anthropocene Feminism’ (Richard Grusin), and ‘Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet’ (Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, Nils Bubandt).

What was it like to receive an award from the Ottawa Arts Council? How did it impact your career?

I was absolutely thrilled to receive the RBC Emerging Artist Award and have my work recognized by respected members of the Ottawa Arts Community. This award, along with the Nancy Petry Award, and support from the Ontario Arts Council, allowed me to develop my latest body of work, as well as experience and explore areas of the world that I never expected to be able to visit so early in my career.

Want to learn more about Gillian? Visit and follow @agillianking on Instagram.


Nominations for the RBC Emerging Artist Award have closed for 2018, but other project-based awards are accepting applications until April 6.

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