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Enveloppes du corps / works on paper and slate a Fascinating New Exhibition at the Glendon Gallery

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Lorène Bourgeois’ exhibition of charcoal drawings and paintings on paper and slate opened at the Glendon Gallery on October 27th. Curated by York and Glendon course director of visual arts, gallery curator and new media artist Marc Audette, this exhibition is a landmark exploration of the formal and material aspects of clothing and their relationship to human and animal bodies.

Fourteen works are on exhibit, enticing the viewer to explore items of clothing, parts of the human body and even the occasional animal, using techniques that give them a life of their own. In the past, Bourgeois has mostly worked with human subjects, having a fascination for the human body, and faces in particular. “I used to go to museums to look at sculptures”, she says “and felt that through my drawings and paintings I had given new life to people of long ago. “


The artist explains her work at Opening Night

Eventually, Bourgeois realized that the clothing on these sculptures had a beauty of its own and could convey texture and weight particular to a textile, or a time in history. In 2007, she received a grant enabling her to travel to London, England and spent several weeks exploring how clothing was represented in paintings, drawings and sculptures. “I spent most of my time in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the War Museum, but also in cemeteries, looking at monuments.” Bourgeois was amazed at the capacity of cloth, its texture and folds, to tell the story of another skin – in other words, to represent what lies beneath.

Right: Mains au repos (Hands at Rest)

In fact, the works displayed in the Glendon exhibition embody a poetic metaphor – more specifically, a synecdoche – where the whole is represented by a part. Thus an eye, a pair of lips, two hands, or a shirt can effectively symbolize the entire person and his body features. One example is the charcoal drawing of a Victorian-era shirt, with its opening cutting diagonally across the front. The drawing is entitled “Cicatrice” (2009) – meaning scar – and it conveys the hardships in life that the wearer might have experienced.

“Camisole” (2007) tells the story of a hard-working woman who wore this linen blouse, with heavy folds made of roughly woven cloth. Although we don’t see her hands or face, we can imagine her body underneath and even the texture of the paper reflects the homespun character of the fabric.

Left: Stay - a Victorian corset

“Mains au repos” (2007) – hands at rest – are clearly hands that have done hard physical labour: perhaps a farmer’s or a vintner’s hands, and an entire story could be spun about what these hands and their owner had accomplished over a lifetime.

A very touching and disturbing drawing of a World War I nurse in uniform, with the title “Dark Cross” (2009) implies the tragedy and horrors that such nurses had experienced, and the wounded and dead they had tended.

You can almost feel the constraints of the “Stay” (2008) – a Victorian corset whose purpose was to squeeze women into shapes that did not exist in nature, by cruelly constricting them in order to conform to the beauty ideals of the time. The drawing suggests a social commentary, a criticism of what women had to endure.

Right: Dark Cross

“Buttons” (2005) displays a jacket whose buttons look like belly-buttons; and “Night Cap” (2009) brings to mind a character from a Molière play, but with a twist – a peak – added to the cap by the artist as a little joke.

Bourgeois’ most recent work, finished just before the opening, provides the exhibition with its title. “Enveloppes du corps " shows a sheep in a special blanket with eye-, ear- and snout-holes, much like the way animals are covered at agricultural fairs, to keep them from soiling themselves. The sheep in the drawing faces a boy wearing a gas mask. “What this drawing says to me”, comments Glendon Associate Principal Rosanna Furgiuele, is the humanization of animals versus the dehumanization of people.”

l-r: Glendon General Manager Gilles Fortin, Associate Principal (Student Services) Rosanna Furgiuele and Media Technologist Duncan Appleton appreciate the art works

Sometimes she uses photos as a starting point, but Bourgeois’ works are completely her own independent creations. She affirms that producing these drawings and paintings is extremely painstaking and time-consuming, and that much erasing and reworking takes place before a work is finished. “Doing these drawings provides moments of excitement and joy, as well as disappointments and despair”, she adds. “But ultimately, you have to believe that it will work.”

Professor Véronique Tomaszewski of Glendon’s Sociology Department, and a member of the Gallery’s Advisory Committee, explains why the committee chose to display the works of this artist. “Lorène’s mastery of the techniques of [charcoal] drawing raises this medium beyond its limits”, says Tomaszewski. “Through her fine, detailed work she can take us one step beyond reality, into the realm of the fantastic and the surrealistic. She brings her intelligence and sense of humour to create a visual interplay between the surface and what lies beneath, giving a depth to our visual perception, as well as exciting our imagination.”

Rigth: Night Cap

Enveloppes du corps / works on paper and slate is at the Glendon Gallery from October 27 to December 11. For Gallery hours and directions, please visit the Gallery’s website. The Glendon Gallery functions within the Department of Student Services at the Glendon campus of York University, under the direction of Associate Principal Rosanna Furgiuele.


More About Lorène Bourgeois

Born in France, Lorène Bourgeois has been living in Canada since 1984. She trained as an artist in Paris, Philadelphia and Halifax (MFA, NSCAD University, 1986). Her work in drawing, painting, and printmaking has been widely exhibited across Canada, as well as in France, Korea, Russia, and the United States. She is represented in private and public collections, including the Canada Council Art Bank, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ernst & Young, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the National Bank of Canada, and the University of Toronto.


The artist in front of Enveloppes du corps


Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on November 2, 2009