Boren Banner Series: Russna Kaur

For Russna Kaur, abstract painting offers a space of possibility, play, and experimentation that is intimately entangled with the complexities of living—both its pleasures and adversities. Rather than approaching a painting as a fixed, singular object, Kaur employs a modular process: she arranges smaller paintings into large-scale compositions that grow, shrink, and shift. The bold and raucous color combinations Kaur uses reference the spectacle of gatherings and locales such as amusement parks, community festivals, ceremonies, and religious spaces—sites of overstimulation, observance, and illusion. For the second installment of the Museum’s Boren Banner Series, Kaur has created a new work, Burnt away in layers of clouds, they fall slowly…suspended in air, free as a gift, which reflects her non-linear and dynamic method of bringing disparate materials, ideas, and memories into tense, energetic balance with one another.

The dense mixture of colors and mediums—including acrylic, oil, spray paint, pastel, crayon, found wood, paper, and felt—in this new work is the result of a five-month process during which Kaur continually reshaped the work by both physical and digital means. The painting began as a poem Kaur made by arranging particular words and phrases lifted directly from earth science textbooks, an informational welcome packet for an artist residency, stories of UFO sightings, and religious texts. The evocative and multiple meanings offered by this poem—from which the title of the work is derived—served as inspiration for the assorted marks, shapes, colors, and textures Kaur sketched and painted onto panels of stretched raw silk, velvet, wood, and canvas. She then organized these panels into various configurations until she achieved a cohesive design. To finalize the work for display on the Museum’s exterior as a vinyl banner, Kaur then had each of the painting’s twelve panels individually photographed so they could be stitched together digitally to create a culminating arrangement.

The result is an image paradoxically circumscribed and boundless, at once rooted in Kaur’s highly personal vision, yet open to wide interpretation. By translating her own lived experience through an abstract lens, Kaur honors the multiplicity of her identity as a Canadian woman of the Punjabi diaspora while resisting being limited to any codified set of racial or gendered markers. Instead, her paintings promote a way of being that is unhinged from expectation and emphatically myriad rather than monolithic.

Russna Kaur (Canadian, b. 1991, Toronto) earned her BFA from the University of Waterloo, Ontario (2013), and her MFA from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design (2019) in Vancouver. Kaur has been an artist in residence at the Burrard Arts Foundation in Vancouver and Centrum’s Emerging Artist Residency in Port Townsend, Washington. She is the recipient of the 2020 Takao Tanabe Painting Prize for emerging painters in British Columbia and the 2020 IDEA Art Award, and her work is in the permanent collections of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation. Kaur, who lives in Vancouver, is currently a sessional instructor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.


The Boren Banner Series is a new public art initiative by the Frye Art Museum that reflects the Museum’s commitment to showcasing artists of the Pacific Northwest. Presented biannually, the series gives regional artists the opportunity to create new site-specific work or show a previously unexhibited piece at monumental scale in the form of a 16 x 20 ft. vinyl banner. The billboard-size work is prominently sited on the Museum’s east facade, facing Boren Avenue: the Frye’s most visible and accessible physical interface.

Boren Banner Series: Russna Kaur is organized by David Strand, former Associate Curator. Generous support for the series is provided by the Frye Foundation and Frye Members. This iteration is also supported, in part, by 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.