Environmental Matters

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large canvas, tower, reservoir, reservoir towers, ladder, human presence, absence, unnatural colour, landscape, isolation, figures industrial, modern technology, sketching,artist's practice, sources of imagery, secret places, heroic fiction, pathos, real settings, mysterious settings, real, unreal, hoplessness, theatre, narrative surrealism, consumption, clean water, environmental concern, planet at risk, industrial wasteland, architectural relics,

“This oversized canvas…is a fabulous example of MacPhee’s preoccupation and/or fascination with  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  industrial wastelands and modern architectural relics.” - art  appraiserOne who engages in art appraisal.  A type of analysis and evaluation, especially in an official or professional capacity. In appraising works of art, for instance, an art appraiser studies their various qualities, and ultimately estimates their monetary worth, typically for insurance or taxation reasons, or in establishing a price. (Artlex.com)  Pari Nadimi. (Nadimi 2006)


Reservoirs features a central tower, with another similar tower in the distance. Both towers are devoid of any covering and appear to be abandoned. A single ladder rises within the  foregroundIn a painting or drawing, the foreground is usually composed of images at the bottom of the frame. They give the appearance of being closest to the viewer.  tower, suggesting that at some point a human presence was there. The colours used in the surrounding landscape are unnatural and have an other-worldly quality, as writer Adele Freedman has noted: “One of the shocking things about MacPhee’s figures - is their butcher-shop colours; carnal hues of pink, purple and blue. Always shown in isolation, they are situated at some strange crossroads where industrial and animal, male and female, meet.” (Freedman, 1989)

Reservoirs is part of a  body of workA collection of artwork by a particular artist, either over a lifetime, or as related to one subject, etc.  titled Industrial Series which MacPhee created between 1984 through 1991. During that time, MacPhee sought out ruins of modern technology, sketching and taking photos at the sites before returning to her studio. In an interview with Adele Freedman, MacPhee talked about her sources of imagery:

start quoteThese sites I go to they’re secret places, in a way. They embody the feeling of heroic fiction. Now there is a pathos about it, something very compelling. They’re deteriorating.end quote-- Medrie MacPhee (Freedman 1989)

Back in the studio MacPhee created mysterious settings for these images of abandoned industrial structures. These settings seem real and unreal, foreboding and calm. MacPhee does not blatantly state something is seriously wrong but the viewer is left with a sense of unease and hopelessness. One is left to ask "What happened here and where have all the inhabitants of this area gone?"


This  narrativeRelating to the telling of a story, or the telling of events, etc.  quality and the sense of the theatrical in her work have led some experts to see a relationship between MacPhee’s work and the  surrealistSurrealism is an art movement in the early 20th century based on dreams, and the subconscious, and the distortion of representations.  Giorgio de Chirico, and the American artist Edward Hopper.

The title, Reservoirs, is the name given to a container for storing water, usually for human consumption.  Here we are presented with the image of an abandoned reservoir. This leads to the question, Why is it no longer necessary? With the consumption of water at the present rate we may have shortages of clean water in the near future. Could our planet and all life be at risk? MacPhee quietly and forebodingly reminds the viewer of this environmental concern.

additional resources Things to Think About
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Find our more about architecture in Canada by visiting:

  • Canadian Centre for Architecture: http://www.cca.qc.ca/

  • Tools for Action at the Canadian Centre for Architecture:  http://cca-actions.org/actions-list for the exhibition Actions: What You Can Do With the City which "documents and presents specific projects by a large and diverse group of activists whose personal involvement has triggered radical change in today’s cities."
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Studio Activity
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Build an architectural structure

Geodesic Domes
  • Let the structure or the framework for the structure be the finished work.

Photography and deterioration

In your neighbourhood or town look for abandoned objects and buildings. Create a  photo essayUsing photographic images to visually tell a story.  about the waste and the  consumerismFind out about consumerism at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerism  in society today.


With friends, discuss feelings such as those invoked by being alone and isolated and unable to understand or connect with other people. Sometimes people can feel like the emotion communicated in MacPhee’s artwork Reservoir - abandoned and alone in an unusual environment.

Discuss ideas and situations that can lead people to this state of being.

  • Plan to visit some shut-ins who would enjoy a visit and some companionship. Work with your friends to plan some kind of arts related entertainment that will brighten someone’s day.  What possibilities can you imagine?
  • Draw your own architectural image and environment using a black wax crayon or wax pencil which will resist watercolour paint.

crcrayonspaintingsunflowersmore sunflowersfinished picture


Freedman, Adele.  ‘Dead-Tech Revisited.’  Canadian Art, Fall 1989.

Goodman, Jonathan.  ‘Medrie MacPhee at Michael Steinman.’  Art In America, May 2006.

Johnson, Ken.  ‘Medrie MacPhee at Baldacci Daverio.  Exhibition Paintings: New York, New York.’  Art In America, July 1993.

Nadimi, Pari.  Certificate of Appraisal.  Art Dealers Association of Canada, 2006.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning