Brock’s own Visual Arts Instructor, Lorène Bourgeois, is exhibiting a collection of her work with large drawings at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. Some of her most recent highly detailed drawings are mounted directly on the wall and are described by MIWSFPA as “large-scale representations of humans, animals, clothing and nakedness”.
Although born in France, Bourgeois has trained in the arts in Paris, Philadelphia and Halifax, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. Bourgeois’ work has been exhibited in Canada, France, Korea, Russia and the United States, and her work is currently held in a multitude of centres for art which include: the Canada Council Art Bank, the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the National Bank of Canada, the Richmond Hill Public Library, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Ernst and Young, Senvest, Hart House and the Donovan Collection. Currently, she lives and works in Toronto, as well as teaches in Brock’s Department of Visual Arts.
In a statement made on her website in regards to her recent drawings, Bourgeois says she is developing a series of drawings that focus on the subject of clothing and its relation to human and animal bodies. She goes on to say that she is interested not only in the social and utilitarian functions of garments, but also their qualities as physical objects. In particular, the details of these physical objects, such as their folds and buttons, are some of what she explores in her work.
“Isolated from their original context, and placed in the presence of similarly ambiguous “faux frères,” such garments seem to oscillate between functionality and theatricality, between absurdity and threat,” said Bourgeois. “It is this tension, the moment when the function of clothing slips into something less recognizable, that I wish to explore.”
At the opening of her gallery at MIWSFPA, she further elaborated on her more recent drawings, saying that they relate garments to the human body and face:
“We have five new pieces in this show. They are all from the same series; what’s interesting for me actually is to allow them to connect to one another just like people would in life,” said Bourgeois. “They really reflect my own experience, like looking at people and contouring people in life. Of course, my interest is in a different meaning of clothing – like, people wear clothing for a social reason, it can be protection, it can be both, or it can also be a sign of authority. There are all these different possibilities, and with this collection we see a few.”
Out of the pieces hung along the walls, one individual drawing stood out, as it was the lone piece to include an animal.
“I’ve also been interested in animals for some time – even dressed animals. Sheep, for instance, at the winter fair are covered with a kind of hood, which really reminds you of something from the middle ages,” said Bourgeois. “It’s a bit scary, because you only see the eyes.”
Although her subject matter is diverse, it all connects to and works with images of humanity. Throughout our discussion on her art, she began to speak about what she is trying to accomplish with these pieces.
“There is a lot of different thought going into this work,” said Bourgeois. “Like bringing back a different period of history but also bringing together individuals which lived in the past. Some of the work’s sources are really both from my life and looking at people and animals, but they’re also looking at artifacts in a museum. Also, looking at sculpture. Some of these faces [in the drawings] were actually roman people.“
On a drawing entitled “Swim Cap” (2013), Bourgeois commented that this was one of the drawings of a sculpture. This sculpture was depicting a nineteenth century noble person in France, but Bourgeois removed the clothing she’d had on and instead focused on the face and shoulders, noting that she wanted to focus on the woman’s strength in these features.
Referencing a work entitled “Tin Hat” (2014), Bourgeois noted, “this fellow here who was a Roman general has become a soldier or a worker – we really don’t know now because of that tin hat. I know it is an odd thing I’m doing with the human form but for me, what really matters is bringing them back in a way and showing their strengths and sometimes their attitude, but often the dignity that I see.”
When the subject turned to motivation, Bourgeois elaborated on the two things she thinks of when meditating on her work; first, its presence.
“One of the things I think of when I think of my work is the idea of presence – bringing back the human presence, whether it’s that of a person living before our time – it could be a contemporary person like my neighbour’s daughter (reference to “Infant”, 2012). The other word I would use is trying to make it as intense as possible through the way of working. It is very intense, with layers and layers of the medium.”
On her process, she explained that her staple tool in the Large Drawings collection is Conté, a medium often consisting of compressed, powdered graphite. Bourgeois only uses this and an eraser to produce her pieces; there is no white tool, and so instead she works with the original white space of the paper. One piece can take approximately three months
In the collection now being exhibited in MIWSFPA, it is interesting to note that there are four separate drawings of figures wearing gas masks.
Although she expressed her horror at the idea of war, Bourgeois also claimed a sense of fascination felt when exploring war museums. She recounted a time a few years back, when she was on a research grant in England. The Imperial War Museum was holding an exhibition on childhood during WWӀӀ.
“Something I didn’t realize until that show was that everyone in Europe had to have a gas mask ready,” explained Bourgeois. “Because gas had been used in WWӀ, they thought it was going to be used again in WW2; people were terrified. In that display, they were showing gas masks for children which they called ‘Mickey Mouse’. The gas masks were red and had funny colours so kids would not be so scared of them, but it was pretty scary [for me to see]. They showed a video of a toddler learning how to put the mask on their head. In the end, gas was not used at war, but it’s still a current topic because it’s been used recently in Syria.”
On her earlier work, Bourgeois talked about her fascination with clothing:
“I drew only the clothing. I’ve always worked with the human theme. As I mentioned before, I used to look at faces from sculpture and I would take a lot of photos in museums of sculpture, but then all of a sudden my camera started looking below and realizing the clothing.”
Bourgeois spoke on the eighteenth century, saying there were were beautiful sculptures with beautiful clothing, specifically noting the time of the French revolution. Men wore very frivolous and showy costumes, which drew her interest. Even now, although she focuses on the face, she works with a hat in her drawings.
In one corner of the room hung a drawing entitled “Forteresse” (2012); in it, a severe looking woman sits, staring out at you amidst the huge, frilly fabric collaring her dress.
“The source for Forteresse is a tiny sculpture of a woman from the nineteenth century, and she had a much smaller cloth around her shoulders and neck,” said Bourgeois. “I made her much bigger and her dress also bigger. I call it Fortress. She’s very righteous, very dignified, and you don’t know whether the strengths are coming from her or whether the outfit gives her those strengths. On one hand it gives her power, but on the other hand it’s very restrictive, which it was if you think about those times in the Victorian time where women wore corsets and very stiff clothing.”
When looking at Bourgeois’ Large Drawings, her dedication to depicting the human expression and presence is clear. The detailed shading done only through Conté and eraser allows her to work very closely with the base level paper itself, coming back to it over and over again, and sustaining a relationship with its white space. She did not need to talk about presence, because it was already felt in the room. “Swim Cap” stares, fierce and dignified, into the dead centre of the room. The depictions of children and people in gas masks almost stalk the corners of the gallery, some staring back at its viewers and others looking away. The medium allows for an intense representation of its subject matter and, with it, Bourgeois has brought these people, Romans or World War ӀӀ children, into the room
Lorène Bourgeois’ gallery of Large Drawings will be held at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts from October 18th – November 18th, Tuesday – Saturday from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.