Exhibition of charcoal drawings and paintings opens at Glendon Gallery

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

Right: Lorène Bourgeois’ piece Night Cap

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 the subjects a life of their own. In the past, Bourgeois 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 and felt that through my drawings and paintings I had given new life to people of long ago,” she says.

Eventually, she 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, UK, to spend 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,” says Bourgeois, who 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.

Left: Dark Cross by Lorène Bourgeois

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. An eye, a pair of lips, two hands or a shirt can effectively symbolize an 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 titled 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 neither her hands or face are visible, it is easy to imagine her body underneath, and even the texture of the paper reflects the homespun character of the fabric.

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 they and their owner have accomplished over a lifetime.

Right: Mains au repos (hands at rest) by Lorène Bourgeois

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

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 – suggests a social commentary, a criticism of what women had to endure. 

Buttons (2005) displays a jacket whose buttons look like belly buttons, while 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.

Left: Lorène Bourgeois’ piece Stay a Victorian corset

Bourgeois’ most recent work, Enveloppes du corps, finished just before the opening, provides the exhibition with its title and 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 getting dirty. The sheep in the drawing faces a boy wearing a gas mask. “What this drawing says to me is the humanization of animals versus the dehumanization of people,” says Rosanna Furgiuele, Glendon’s associate principal.

Sometimes Bourgeois uses photos as a starting point, but her 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, but ultimately, you have to believe that it will work,” she says.

Above: Lorène Bourgeois explains her work during opening night

Véronique Tomaszewski, course director in Glendon’s Department of Sociology and a member of the Glendon Gallery’s Advisory Committee, explains why the committee chose to display the works of this artist.

Right: Glendon executive officer Gilles Fortin (left), Associate Principal Rosanna Furgiuele and media technologist Duncan Appleton

“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.” 

Left: Lorène Bourgeois in front of Enveloppes du corps

Enveloppes du corps / works on paper and slate is at the Glendon Gallery until Dec. 11.

For Gallery hours and directions, visit the Glendon Gallery Web site.

The Glendon Gallery functions within the Department of Student Services at the Glendon campus of York, under the direction of Furgiuele.

More About Lorène Bourgeois

Born in France, Bourgeois has been living in Canada since 1984. She trained as an artist in Paris, Philadelphia and Halifax, receiving a master of fine arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in 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 for the Arts Art Bank, the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Ernst & Young, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the National Bank of Canada and the University of Toronto.

Submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny