Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Jean-Claude Poitras @ Montreal's McCord Museum

Recently I had an opportunity to attend a tour with the fashion designer Jean-Claude Poitras, as he led a small group through his current exhibition at the McCord Museum.

Poitras was charming, and he told many stories about his youth and his career, which illuminated the designs on display. Poitras was raised by his great-grandmother in a small Quebec town, and going to mass weekly was a treat for him. He loved to look at the parade of ladies in their finery. Some of his early collections even reference ecclesiastical garments.

Poitras admitted to finding inspiration in the fan magazines he loved as a child. The woolen suit on the left, designed in 1977, was inspired by Diane Keaton's androgynous wardrobe in the film Annie HallTo my eye, the trench coat on the right is a feminine version of one worn by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. 

I can imagine these frocks, shown above, on Italian film stars of the 50's and 60's.

Poitras attracted a celebrity clientele early on. He was enthusiastically endorsed by local "women of influence", like Mila Mulroney, Lisette Lapointe, and Pauline Marois.

One of the companies for which Poitras designed, Franck Imports, had extensive connections in Hong Kong. Twice a year, Poitras would spend two or three weeks in Hong Kong, learning to work with luxurious silk fabrics.

The tunic shown above is cut from mud silk, a fabric made in Guangdong province in south China, since the time of the Ming dynasty. In a laborious artisanal process, silk fabric is first dyed brown with ju-liang root. One side is then coated in iron-rich mud from the Pearl River delta and the silk is left to dry flat in the sun. The mud dyes one side of the fabric black, while also giving it a slight stiffness and lustre.  This method is not adaptable to industrial production.

You can see some Japanese influence in the garments above.

Find out more about the exhibition here. The show continues until April 26, 2020.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Griffintown" @ Montreal's McCord Museum

This weekend I had the pleasure of touring a newly-opened exhibition at the McCord Museum.

In this show, Montreal photographer Robert Walker shares twenty large-scale photos of Griffintown, a working-class Montreal neighbourhood, now undergoing radical gentrification. Another hundred or so of his photos are shown as projected images. Also on display are historic photos of the neighbourhood from the museum's archive.

Walker often juxtaposes the slick and glamorous "lifestyle" images used to promote the condos with the reality of their construction, and the consequent deconstruction of the neighbourhood. The viewer cannot help but ask:

  • what is lost?
  • what is gained?
  • what is promised?

You can find out more about the McCord's Griffintown photo exhibition here.

For those of you who appreciate the art of urban photography, have a look at this youtube video of Robert Walker on the job, in which he shares his approach and aesthetic considerations.

The show is the inauguration of an ongoing series at the McCord, Evolving Montreal.
"To document Montreal’s ongoing urban transformation, in the next few years the Museum will be commissioning well-known local photographers to explore the changes occurring in a neighbourhood of their choice."
The exhibition Griffintown continues until August 9, 2020.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Landscape Painting Now: from Pop Abstraction to New Romanticism

Published in 2019, this book offers a survey of 21st century landscape painting, a genre often  overlooked in current art criticism. It was edited by Todd Bradway, with an introductory essay by Barry Schwabsky.

Jonas Wood, M.V. Landscape, 2008
oil on canvas, 120 x156 inches

The work of more than 80 artists is presented, divided into six loose categories: Realism and Beyond, Post-Pop Landscapes, New Romanticism, Constructed Realities, Abstracted Topographies, and Complicated Vistas. Each category is defined and explored in a short introductory essay.

The three paintings I have chosen to post here are among my favourites. They are more figurative than much of the work in the book.

Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Bathers, 2016
mixed media oil on canvas, 35 x 35 inches

A couple of paragraphs introduces the work of each artist, both in general terms and with commentary about the specific paintings chosen to illustrate the artist's approach. Each artist has three or more paintings featured, often in full-page format. The quality of the reproduction is excellent.

Tim Eitel, Reflector, 2015
oil on canvas, 86 5/8 x 126 inches

The book ends with biographical information about all the artists. While most are American, there is a fair representation of international painters.

As I read through Landscape Painting Now, I was reminded how landscape painting can deal with contemporary issues, like social isolation, migration, and environmental devastation. 

I found the book in my local library; it's also available from Amazon.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Forgotten Female Art Dealer Who Championed Picasso and Modigliani

An article on Artsy, written by Karen Chernick, has introduced me to an intriguing personality. Her name was Berthe Weill, and I had never heard of her.

In 1901, at the age of 36, the Parisienne Berthe Weill opened an art gallery where she sold the work of emerging artists at modest prices. Writes Chernick,
"Weill bought, exhibited and sold Pablo Picasso's work before he ever moved to Paris or painted any of the works for which he's now considered a modernist legend.... She sold his Moulin de la Galette (c. 1900) for 250 francs to collector and newspaper publisher Arthur Huc.
"Huc made another purchase from Weill that year, a still life by Henri Matisse, for the bargain rate of 130 francs, the first ever sale by a dealer for the young Fauve artist."

Moulin de la Galette, Pablo Picasso, now in the Guggenheim Museum

Among the artists she championed during her 40-year career were André Derain, Georges Braque, Aristide Maillol, Kees van Dongen, Maurice de Vlaminck, Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrilllo, Georges Roualt, Raoul Dufy, Robert Delauney and Amadeo Modigliani. Midway through her career she began to dedicate half of her exhibitions to women artists. As the artists became more recognized, they moved on to better-known galleries, and Weill never achieved much financial success.

Portrait de Berthe Weill, Georges Kars, 1933

Sadly, Weill had to close her gallery in 1941. As tough as she was, life had become too difficult for a Jewish businesswoman in German-occupied France. Ten years later, she died in poverty.

There is a local connection to this story: in 2022, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art will stage a show of some 80 paintings that passed through her gallery.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

After the storm...

... I took these photos on my iPhone, driving home from Costco.

It was a moment to be reminded of the very special character of the winter landscape, and the singular appeal of familiar places.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Installation at Montreal's new Four Seasons hotel

When I read the article in Westmount Magazine, I knew I had to visit the sculpture that forms the centrepiece of this newly-updated Montreal hotel.

Contemplation, Pascale Girardin

Pascale Girardin, a Montreal artist, has created a breathtaking installation that plays beautifully on the name of the prestigious hotel on Rue de la Montagne. 
"The all-white installation with gilded accents of 24-karat gold is made up of over ninety floral suspensions ranging from thirty centimetres to one meter in diameter, made of lightweight aluminum. These garlands cascade through the atrium from the seventeenth to the eighth floor, evoking the cycles of nature—the blossoms of spring flowers, the movement of petals adrift on a summer breeze, the spill of autumnal leaves and the lightness of falling snow."
The original, site-specific sculpture, titled Contemplation,
"spans nine floors and is 31.5 m high. A multitude of floral rosaries, made up of nearly a hundred flowers and petals, cascade down between the seventeenth and eighth floors. Manufacturing and installation took about nine months. The meticulous installation of each petal and flower was... carried out over a period of three weeks."
We inquired of the hotel doorman about the possibility of seeing the sculpture when we realized it was not immediately visible on entering the hotel. We were referred to the front desk, and then assigned to a gracious hotel staffer, who escorted us to the 8th floor, where we had a good view of the atrium, ascending to the sky.

We were told that lighting is used to create various colour effects on the blossoms. At the time of our visit, some of the aluminum petals had a suggestion of pink reflected light, giving the impression of floating cherry blossoms.

The organic forms of the petals are a lyrical contrast to the grid-like structures of the building's architecture.

Note: A friend who was inspired to visit the installation was told that it is only available to hotel guests. :-(

the entrance to the Four Seasons, on rue de la Montagne

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

So pleased...

Rue de Buade #2

Delighted to learn that one of my cityscapes in cloth, shown above, has been selected for an upcoming show at the Homer Watson Gallery in Kitchener, Ontario, March 13 - May 31, 2020.

The show, a SAQA Regional Juried Exhibition, will be titled Colour with a U, and will feature 36 works in fibre. All the artists are Canadian members of SAQA. The exhibition coincides with the annual conference of SAQA this March. The conference will be held in Toronto, the first time this international group has staged its conference outside the US.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Those New Yorker covers

"Twilight Avenue", by Pascal Campion

Every now and then I am especially taken with the design of a New Yorker cover. The magazine is proud of its history of original illustrated covers, when so many magazines now rely on  photography.

I'm particularly fond of this recent illustration, and have spent some time analyzing its distribution of darks and lights, the sparks of red and pink amongst all those neutrals, the illusion of wet pavement, and the use of atmospheric perspective.

There are many ways of establishing a sense of depth in a landscape. For example, figures are larger in the foreground, smaller in the background. Overlapping of shapes contributes to the effect. Distant objects have fewer details. That decorative grate on the lower left helps to situate the viewer as apart from the scene. 

"Atmospheric perspective" is the use of lighter, duller colours to suggest items further away. The theory is that the further the distance, the more atmospheric particles separate the eye from the subject, lightening and dulling the distant objects. This effect is readily observed when looking at a series of distant hills.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

This year at the MNBAQ

For those who have always meant to visit the Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec, this may well be the year to make the trip. Three major exhibitions are planned that will have a broad appeal.

From February 13 - May 18, 2020, the museum will host Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism. Presented are more than 150 items, with ten paintings by Kahlo, including the well-known Self-Portrait with Necklace, Self-Portrait with Braid, and Diego on my Mind. Also included: twenty works by other Mexican painters and 85 photographs by important Latin American photographers of the period. The show has already traveled widely.

From June 20 - September 27, 2020, Turner and the Sublime will make its exclusive Canadian appearance. Organized by the Tate, it includes 75 paintings and works on paper, covering the biggest portion of Turner's career. Featured will be a Turner painting from the holdings of the MNBAQ, Scene in Derbyshire (1842), bequeathed to the museum by the estate of Maurice Duplessis.

As well, Emily Carr and her Contemporaries will be staged at the MNBAQ from November 5, 2020 - January 17, 2021. Meant to serve as a counterpoint to the one- hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Group of Seven, the show assembles some 250 works by pioneering women painters, photographers, sculptors, architects, and filmmakers, including 50 works by their Aboriginal contemporaries. Names that will be familiar to Montrealers include Paraskeva Clark, Marion Dale Scott, Prudence Heward and Anne Savage. 

Whenever I visit the MNBAQ, I enjoy touring the wing that once housed the city's prison. Four floors of this space are permanently dedicated to four important Quebec artists: Jean Paul Lemieux, Alfred Pellan, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Fernand Leduc. Also part of the permanent collection is the fascinating sculpture The Flux and the Puddle by David Altmejd, not to be missed.

The museum has a great restaurant too, and on a summer's day you can't beat the view from a table on the terrace.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Imagine Van Gogh @ Arsenal

This immersive experience of image and music is currently staged in the cavernous space of Arsenal, an art venue in southwestern Montreal. It has been getting rave reviews, and continues until March 1, 2020.

Originally designed to be projected in the old bauxite quarries of Les Baux-de-Provence, it is now a "must-see" for winter-weary Montrealers.

More than 200 of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings are thematically presented, sometimes in extreme close-up, allowing viewers to appreciate the energy of the artist's brushwork.

The accompanying sound track is replete with well-chosen musical selections from Saint-Saëns, Satie, Prokofiev, and others.

The film portion of the exhibit runs about 30 minutes, but visitors should plan on spending some additional time reading the bilingual explanatory panels about Van Gogh's life.

Even the floor serves as a screen for ever-changing imagery.

For more information, visit the Arsenal website.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Why the Art World is Embracing Craft: Artsy

Thank you to Michele for bringing this recent Artsy post to my attention. Readers should be able to access it here.

The author, Glenn Adamson, celebrates a renewed interest in craft as art, evidenced by several major museum shows and by rising sale prices for craft-based art.

Anni Albers, Black White Yellow, 1926
included in her retrospective show at Tate Modern, 2018-19

He proposes that bringing craft "into the circle" is a way of ensuring the inclusion of women and non-Western artists.
"Craft is also a rich tapestry of ethnic diversity, having been practiced expertly by people of all nations and regions for millennia. You can make a strong case that the long-standing marginalization of the crafts—and the self-evidently crazy idea that painting isn’t one—was just the art world’s way of practicing sexism and racism, barely disguised as a policing of disciplines rather than people."

an installation photo from "Taking a Thread for a Walk",
a show organized for the re-opening of MOMA, and continuing until April 19, 2020

He also suggests that the embrace of handwork reflects our hunger for "materiality" in an increasingly virtual world.
"At a time when our collective attention is dangerously adrift, trapped in the freefall of our social-media feeds and snared in a pit of fake facts, handwork provides a firm anchor. It cannot be spun. It gives us something to believe in."
I expect to visit the MOMA show before it closes, and will share the experience by posting here.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Three-artist show at Victoria Hall

I am delighted to be part of a three-artist show at Westmount's Victoria Hall. Curated by Victoria Leblanc, the exhibition includes the whimsical ceramic sculptures of John Fretz and the digital photo prints of Mana Hamami, with their architectural themes.

John Fretz, Felicity, stoneware, glazes

Mana Hamami, The Mathematician, ink jet on acrylic

The contrast between Fretz's highly tactile sculptures, Hamami's glossy, slick photos, and my textural works in fibre makes for an interesting show. Many of my pieces are in a square format, as are all twelve of Hamami's photos, and this helps the show hang together nicely.

I was pleased to show a mix of fibre and paintings.

It is remarkable how seeing my work in a good venue, with great lighting, gives me an opportunity to re-evaluate a piece or a series in a positive way. My series in hand-dyed linen, for example, was not particularly well-received originally, but I was encouraged by the reception it was given at this show.

A piece in hand-dyed linen, seen on left, is hung on the wall furthest from the
entrance, and its stark brightness helps to draw in visitors.

It was busy at the vernissage.

Below is the text that the curator prepared for my profile:

Heather Dubreuil presents both semi-realistic and abstract textile art.  In Cityscapes the artist transforms her own photographs of  everyday urban scenes into elegant compositions of shape, line and expressive colour. Her most recent series features hand-dyed linen works pieced together and delicately detailed with corded threads, machine stitching and hand embroidery. Their square format and size – 24 x 24 inches - result in poised colour fields reminiscent of the pioneering masters of minimalist abstraction.  Dubreuil’s works, however, carry the feel of textile; their textural surface, warm colour palette and hand embroidery lending them a sensuous, haptic appeal.  Best known for her work in cloth and stitch, Heather also explores abstract imagery with acrylic paint and collage, some of which are included in the exhibition. Dubreuil received a BFA from Concordia University. She has shown in many solo and group exhibitions and her works appear in collections in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. She has also been profiled in several books and magazines.
The show continues until February 16, 2020. A drop-in event with the artists is scheduled for Tuesday, January 21, 2 - 3 p.m., at Victoria Hall, 4646 Sherbrooke St. West, Westmount.