Visual arts



Information on the activity

March 8, 2014 to April 26, 2014

Galerie Laroche/Joncas is pleased to present Ballads From the North Sea, a series of new works by Colleen Heslin.

The investigation of artistic media is at the core of Colleen Heslin’s practice, as is evident in the exhibition title’s reference to art critic Rosalind Krauss’ 1999 essay. Like Krauss, Heslin’s work both asks and provisionally answers fundamental questions about contemporary painting: what has been done in the past, how does painting signify today and where can it be taken from here?
Moving away from the idea that the surface is merely something to be covered up by paint, the ink or dye in Heslin’s work suffuses the textile; in effect, the fabric becomes both support and surface. Concentrated experimentation with inks and dyes generates striking illusions of depth, folds and underlying shapes that are amplified by the stretching of the material over the frame. In this way, the hand-built stretcher and the surface material also become mutually constitutive elements.

As these materials and methods are intrinsic to Heslin’s practice, the works presented in Ballads from the North Sea mark a deeper investigation of form and composition. In contrast to the largely grey-scale paintings that characterize her previous output, these paintings represent a significant turn towards colour as a primary formal vehicle. The strength of Heslin’s work derives from three major elements: a deep understanding of 20th century art—particularly late modernist abstract painting and the paradigmatic shifts that followed—a unique methodology, and openness to the aesthetic possibilities conferred by both. Heslin is informed by, but not beholden to, points of reference such as Clement Greenberg’s mid-century formalism and Krauss’ discussions of medium in the postmodern shifts that followed. Significantly the artist has employed the limits proposed by these theorists as the activating agents of her creative process. The economy of means championed by Greenberg, for example, has been updated by Heslin’s dyeing process, as the most direct way to create a color field. Her use of second-hand and thrift store fabric speaks to another sense of economy, which by extension invokes the excesses of consumer culture.

Notwithstanding the directness of abstraction, the irony and humour behind Heslin’s titles—often borrowed from 70s-era thrift store LPs—also deflect an easy reading of the works as reiterations of mid-century “pure” formalism. Moreover, the artist has recognized and absorbed a set of elective affinities that includes colour field artists of the 50s and 60s but also the abstract work of Matisse and American Quilt traditions. However, Heslin astutely positions herself and her work in the present moment, and always from the perspective of painting. The confidence that these works exhibit derives from this (self)awareness: it demonstrates an understanding that art history – and painting in particular – does not necessarily need to be overcome, as the futile conceit of postmodernism avows, but can be materially invoked and employed in the invention of new terrain. However diffusely, the digital age in which we operate invariably informs artistic production, shaping – in Heslin’s work – the experience of the spectator. Her decision to work with “analog” materials and without representational images is not a default but a means of engaging the spectator in a way that curiously resonates with viewing all kinds of visual information, including digitally-produced imagery. Both Heslin’s paintings and computer-generated pictures demand close looking and elicit questions as to how the work has been made. Yet as objects whose support and material are tangible facts, Heslin’s work invites the viewer to engage with them as more than images. These paintings are nodes of construction, bearers of chance effects and sensitive organization.

As products of the artist’s own close attention and care, they ask us to “see the seams.” This exhortation carries a double signification: both as the thin borders between shapes that activate perceptual intensities, and the very possibilities of opening up onto new territory. Rather than a manifesto, these works are propositions for painting.

Colleen Heslin is a Vancouver and Montreal based artist and independent curator. Heslin is a current MFA Candidate in Painting and Drawing at Concordia University and a recent winner of the 2013 RBC Painting Competition. With a BFA from Emily Carr University in Photography, Heslin’s work explores medium crossovers between painting, sculpture, fibers and photography. Founder of The Crying Room Projects, an independent project space, Heslin facilitates an ongoing public mural space for emerging artists in Vancouver. Her work and writing have been published and exhibited in Canada, USA, and Europe.