Corinne Duchesne


Hamilton Artists Inc. is currently featuring an exhibition of paintings on mylar by Corinne Duchesne, at our new location at
161 James St. North, until February 23rd. Gallery hours Tues-Fri 12-5, Sat 12-4
The exhibition is entitled "Stories to Myself". This significant body of work is examined in detail in this essay by member artist Eileen Lampard.

Stories to Myself
The Work of Corinne Duchesne
Hamilton Artists Inc.
An Essay By Eileen Lampard

Inc has started the 2008 season with a thought provoking exhibition of mixed media artworks. The exhibition falls naturally into three sections: the window installation, eight collages and eight large mixed-media on mylar. The window installation works as a good introduction to Corinne Duchesne’s practice. It presents us with artistic skill, a concern for ritual and a situation of unfinished business, the kind that poses questions rather than presents answers. She achieves this by scattering samples of her academic life-drawings on the floor and multiple copies of text attached to the wall, casual placement of scrapes of crumbled newspaper, and an old wooden stool on which sits a coffee cup and a book as though waiting…

As you enter the gallery the eight collages in identical frames hang in the tradition gallery in a straight line approach, creating a situation which sets you up to forget the surroundings and to focus on the subject matter. This section of the exhibition displays artworks made up of juxtaposing segments of energetic preliminary sketches, paintings and text, collaged to create agitated compositions that become complete works in their own right. Duchesne uses the techniques of a sustained drawing alongside a more gestural approach thus alternating between objectivity and subjectivity. This with the physicality of her monochromatic renderings and her emotive use of colour, bring to the work an intellectual puzzle for us to enjoy, not to necessarily solve.

By engaging with “Sketches for Hell” we can gain insight into Duchesne’s interpretation of hell and possibly recognize our some of our own perceptions. She creates a fragmented set of images and words that cannot be read in a linear fashion. Our eyes look at the surface and sporadically stop on an image or a word, and because the positioning is not always vertical we uncomfortably bend our head this way and that. Many of the images sit at right angles to each other giving a crash effect. The variety of coloured images mixed with those of black on white ground, on a mylar ground add to the contrasts that give a sense of the theatrical. Parts of the collage spill over the matt, suggesting hell cannot be confined. Duchesne does not want us to be comfortable in hell. The words umbrage or anger or resentment and images of tornados, motifs of anthropomorphized tree trunks and spreading branches, aggressive black ravens, sometimes fixed in position with transparent tape, are the physical attributes of this work. Such elements of design create in us a version of hell but this is not the whole story.

The images stand as signs and symbols of a collective consciousness, signifying more than just a depiction of objects. It is because we recognize the images and the titles as relating to the history of western culture that we are able to enter these works rejecting madness. For example, the image of the apple rendered in bright coloured pastel in”Sketches for Eden” sets the scene, opening a train of thought for us to interpret the text of Kerberos (sic) to be Cerberus, the three headed dog the guardian of dead souls in the underworld charged with preventing escape to the world above where salvation is still possible. The cut out photograph of a partial body of a black dog, in the left bottom corner fixed upside down as if kicking to be free, adds credence to Hades idea. Duchesne will not let us get away so easily though, as she presents us an image of the dog heads finger- like, reminiscent of the hand sign for God’s blessing. The inclusion of human like portrait of a dog rendered ambiguously could be read as ominous ghost or spirit. In Rembrandt’s “The Adoration of the Shepherds” there is a very similar dog. Rembrandt’s dog symbolizes a guard to the saviour quite different to the duty of Cerberus to keep souls in hell. Other artists have used dogs as symbols for wealth, companionship, and fellow hunter. Duchesne’s dogs are symbols with a history, but we are left to our own devices to interpret their meaning. The freedom of a secular society not permitted in the time of Rembrandt. Myths however don’t die so quickly. In Duchesne’s works there is then, some kind of cross purpose of images which makes for ambiguity as a possible resolution. A marriage of opposites is not the answer. We are given two ways to go either heaven or hell, each with its own agony.

These eight collages with their juxtapositions of images and materials prepare us for the art in the far end of the gallery. These large works read more like complete stories, however, ambiguity allows us to interpret them in our own way, and the sheer energy of the compositions and application of paint sweep us into the art in a different way than the sketches. The first series of Sketches requires us to be involved in an intimate reading whereas these make us stand back to get the full impact.

“Hell” (mixed media) is held onto the gallery wall by two thick plastic strips and eight metal bolts. The image of a dark thick stubby tree sends out knobbly limbs one of which is morphing into an ominous female. Her black hands, one of which is gloved, are grasped together reaching out and touching the beak of a stretching ravine. Blood flows from her fingers. Such a depiction of touch is reminiscent of the “Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo, but there you have God and the passing of a soul to the physically complete Adam whereas here we have forming woman extricating herself from a tree reaching for a bird that pecks her bloody fingers.

In the “Creation of Adam”, some analysts say the strange dark shape God is cradled in is the outline of a brain or there are others who think of it as a womb. So let us play with this symbology. Duchesne places a disc like shape in the vicinity of the female head. Thus the head or mind of the female is empty or about to be created, whatever it is to be she is caught between the forces of nature of which she is a part. The probable out come is more hell. A symbolically empty black and white nest or vessel hangs in a white sky with pink curves which seem to be holding in space, while the earth below is depicted as a mass of earth coloured ground comprised of stream of consciousness text. The words “I have no idea what I am doing” show through. The literal meaning is not important it is the agitation of the nature of the words and the visual component of its manifestation as depicted earth that is its pictorial power. The question could then be asked, is this emerging woman about to confront a hell or earth world where nature was her friend but now is her enemy? An earth, that is becoming a contemporary hell.

In “Eden” the tree of knowledge is upside down and painted in grey space its growth somehow neutralized and separated from the rest of the composition. Its power silenced and confined to approximately one third of the surface. It contrasts with the forceful ferocious three headed dog images, one of which has become a hand with a finger pointing to the brightly coloured apple that has rivulets of dried red paint that drip like blood. The Cerberus swirls from bowl or nest as thought pushed by a violent vortex. Maybe the guardian of Hades points to temptation already taken, and the garden is no longer on an even keel, so to speak. The moment of the painting is the moment of self awareness and therefore the vulnerability to evil. This is my interpretation, but for you to really appreciate Duchesne’s art, you must interpret for yourself. However your interpretation this artwork, it will reflect the pain of losing innocence. The artist gives you images and ideas for you to ponder, giving expression to her ideology and feelings and in this case poses questions not answers.

“Cradle” does not have the religious connotations that permeate the other works, but nevertheless is part of western culture. The nursery rhyme:

Rock a bye baby on the tree top
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough brings the baby will fall
Down will come baby, cradle and all.

There’s no motif of a baby but of a calico cat falling. A calico cat is considered lucky. This one is not because he will not land on his feet. However, a cat is said to have nine lives so he might be lucky. It’s up to you to decide. Planes of colour across the surface are bright and sensuous inter dispersed with blocks of white, grey and patches of unpainted mylar, which emphasize the falling aspect. The horizontal tree images and the three bowls on the left hand side add a sense of vertigo. The experience of the picture is one of colour and the impression of movement. Duchesne is an expert at this.

Duchesne has produced a collection of artwork that catches the imagination and pushes you to go further than the material surface and the symbols, to engage in her story and your own.

Eileen C. Lampard