Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Colleen Heslin @ the McMichael Collection

Trial by Fire

The highlight of my recent visit to the Toronto area was seeing Needles and Pins at the McMichael Collection. I found it very exciting to view the work of Colleen Heslin, winner of the 15th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition, in this temple of Canadian art, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. I am always thrilled to see work in fibre exhibited in a top-ranking art museum, and intrigued by an artist who explores the boundary between painting and fibre art.


Adjacent to the two galleries filled with Heslin's large-scale works is an exhibition of Canadian painter Jack Bush. It is no coincidence that these two artists were paired, as Heslin has clearly been influenced by the abstract imagery of Bush's colour field painting.

Well of Exaggeration

Heslin hand-dyes linen with either fabric dye or ink, achieving a richly-modulated depth of colour. Her cut-out shapes are stitched together and mounted on stretcher bars.

Ice Point

In the words of curator Naomi Potter,
"Colleen Heslin’s paintings resonate with the tension of material and gestural complexity. The artist hand-dyes cotton and linen in small batches, and hangs them to dry, which develops residual surface textures. The stained fabric is then cut and pieced together – similar to quilt-making construction. Colour is in constant dialogue; the pure simplicity of isolated colour is central to every painting. Considering formal abstraction and craft-based methods of mark making, Heslin’s work thoroughly explores colour, shape, and texture, while acknowledging the histories of photography and textiles, and finding connections with the Colour Field painters of the 1960s and 1970s. Aspects of her process – specifically dyeing and sewing – are also inextricably linked to domestic labour, feminism, and craft.
"These paintings do not immediately reveal how they are made or what they are about, yet each advocates for close and sustained reading. The work seeks the space of open interpretation, positioned between the unfamiliar and the familiar. Chromatic expanses and complex shapes play off each other to create paintings that are narratively ambiguous, yet intensely evocative and poignant."
Needles and Pins continues at the McMichael Collection until January 8, 2017.

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