In a brief conversation with painter and first-time curator Jennifer Lefort, I asked her about the process of curatingPerspectives Peinture at Gatineau's artist-run centre, AXENÉO7. She spoke of how she came to it organically, and that a kind of thesis emerged over time and was enabled by the kind of collaborative culture that, for her, characterizes ARCs. Her short statement accompanying this exhibition of exclusively women painters reads as a far more deliberate curatorial proposition that asks questions about the status of feminism within Canadian painting practices. Works by veteran, emerging, and mid-career artists – including Amélie Levesque, Kristine Moran, Jeanie Riddle, Carol Wainio, Janet Werner, and Jinny Yu – adorn the gallery's elegant, oasis-like space.
The show is at once quiet, contemplative, dynamic, varied, and immensely satisfying. It offers a refreshing and singularly focused counterpoint to the complex and multifaceted exhibition, Sakahán, just across the river at the National Gallery of Canada. The slow tinkle of piano keys echoes almost imperceptibly, lending a soothing and pleasantly surreal atmosphere to the galleries at AXE, where many of the spaces are punctured by windows or glass curtain walls offering bucolic vistas. The sound comes from a wall-mounted video by Yu, located in a tiny passage between rooms. On the screen a geometric abstract work is shown under lighting conditions that slowly change. The moving shadow created by the painting mimics the lines of the work itself and becomes a part of it. Whether the effect is artificially created or is simply a sped-up document of diurnal motion, it nonetheless foregrounds the rest of Yu's work in the exhibition which she dubs "non-painting painting." Primarily concerned with troubling the perceptual assumptions and long established conventions of rectangular pictures, Yu's installation of raw and at times barely painted aluminum panels is a rewarding shell game of grids, limits, reflections, and refractions that juxtapose gesture with industrial processes.
Riddle's Spills are stacks of folded sheets of interior latex house paint and further thrust painting's flatness into new configurations of the sculptural. Other enigmatic sculptural objects are also included such as a plywood table whose top is made using a piece of white, painted gypsum – a wall laid horizontally. Wainio's paintings always both enthrall and confuse and seem to be the product of an almost magical and impenetrable logic. Figures and characters from fairy tales and the books that illustrate them appear in tumultuous stage-like scenes. Seemingly, the players' very thoughts evolve (or devolve) into impossibly luscious patterns and potentially offer us insight into their (or our) murky, fraught, fictional psyches.
The largest works are by Werner. They all feature a single figure, always a woman, in front of a neutral ground. The torsos and heads are desperately out of proportion, yet the intensity and strength of their personae is arresting and grips you. The frontispiece for the exhibition is a work called Genie and it adorns the leaflet that accompanies the show. I can't remember ever seeing such a bewitching use of the "double frontal side eye." Even though the figure directs her gaze away from the viewer, the nagging sensation that she refuses to let you avert her reprisal or invitation lingers with both discomfort and promise.
Painting Perspectives continues until July 31.
Andrew Wright is an artist based in Ottawa and the Interim Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He has exhibited widely and is the recipient of numerous awards. He was recently elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent and can be followed@AndrewWrightArt on Twitter.