In recent years the Gallery has received a number of Warkov’s large multi-panelled paintings, a body of work that earned her national attention beginning in the 1970s. This exhibition showcases one of her most celebrated and defining periods of creative production.
Subtly psychedelic, Warkov’s stylized motifs reveal the influence of the Eastern European community into which she was born. Her motley scenes integrate a recurring and morphing array of images—townsfolk, historical figures, insects, and engine parts—appropriated from the old photographs, postcards, medical textbooks, and department store catalogues the artist scavenged from local junk shops and second-hand stores.
Warkov’s refreshingly idiosyncratic paintings engage with matters of race, ethnicity, social history, and cultural memory. At the same time, her work does not correspond to specific intentions, revealing any coherent stories. “When most people look at my work,” Warkov told Maclean’s in 1977, “they want to know what the symbolism is—and the truth is I don’t have any.” In the absence of an encompassing narrative, Warkov invites the viewer to meander, as one might through a found box of nameless photographs, and simply revel in the partial, provisional, and ultimately inarticulate strangeness of her painted worlds.