Douglas Coupland has worn many hats during his life in the public eye. As a chronicler of early ’90s cynicism, he popularized the phrase Generation X. As a novelist, he has released 13 books and been nominated for the Giller Prize. And as a visual artist, he has exhibited across the world.
His latest painting exhibition, The New Ice Age, is on show at Toronto’s Daniel Faria Gallery. The collection is a response to the Canadian landscape that has so fascinated Coupland, as well as a nod to 20th-century movements in expression and technique from cubism to modernism and even abstract expressionism.
Perhaps subconsciously, when he used the signifier X for his generation, Coupland was starting near the end, leaving little room in the alphabet for future cohorts. This idea, this running out of time, is clear in The New Ice Age, icebergs rendered in vivid and impossible colours, perhaps a stand-in for the pervasive pollution and plastics that are rife in the oceans of the world and lead to the melting of glacial ice.
The icebergs themselves stand alone, detached from their source by nature or by human interference in the form of global warming. On the canvas, they are simultaneously a testament to the landscape of the Canadian North and a warning that they will not last forever.
All this is painted in an inviting way, with bold colours and disparate yet familiar shapes. In Exxon Valdez, were the name not symbolic enough, the familiar Arctic blues, whites, and greys of Coupland’s “iceberg” are given curving, gentle forms, with the colours merging into one another in places, natural partners in the greater structure. Throughout the work, however, there are jagged, almost neon-orange blocks, strangers in this otherwise harmonious scene, like evidence flags at a crime scene. They are a radioactive intrusion into nature’s designs.
The New Ice Age can be seen at Daniel Faria Gallery in Toronto until December 16, 2023.