For the works in her exhibition What Bonds Are These?, Beth Stuart has drawn heavily on recent research into an ancient Danish weaving technique called sprang. It differs from what we know as weaving in that Sprang is made with only warp or vertical threads, bound together in a kind of extended braid that results in a flexible, versatile and flimsy material that is contingent upon itself to retain a sense of structure. Using some of this material that she herself has constructed as supports for her paintings, Stuart is inviting us to venture beyond our expectations of what painting might be, well beyond the frame – the stretcher – the grid.
For the last several years Stuart’s painting practice can be seen as a negotiation with some of modernist painting’s dearly held beliefs and principles. Her desire to remain in dialogue with these ideas and at the same time to poke, and prod – to consistently question their viability, results in works that are at times filled with humour and at times filled with pathos but are always engaged and filled with a physical presence.
The piece one encounters upon entering the Gallery, Work (Jack Bush) is a large rectangle of Linen with the weft removed and the warp spranged into a gentle torso that references some of the great Canadian painter’s post painterly abstractions. Within the inner “frame” of neutral linen are two threads with gradient colours that move through the full spectrum and are braided within the sprang revealing the method of its making. The threads serve as a small and quiet gestural offering into Stuart’s ongoing conversation with the history of modern painting.
In the opposite corner we find Stanchions For E.H/Immanent Collapse, a very elongated and spranged pair of panty hoes that transverse the corner and who’s toes are attached to the wall with delicate porcelain hooks. The EH in the title refers to the great modernist sculptor Eva Hess who’s minimalist and post minimalist works were charged with an insubordination that was a reaction to rigidity of the modernist and male dominated art world of the day. Her organic and often erotically charged works from everyday materials pushed directly against the “grid world” ideal held by many of her male counterparts. In this bawdy homage Stuart again points us to the flimsy structures that uphold our beliefs regarding the subject of painting.
According to Stuart, “the things in the exhibition might not best be described as paintings. Some are more sculptural while some distinctly speak a craft vernacular. Nonetheless, the point of origin, the impetus, the first problem, the first question, is persistently the question of modernist painting: the relationship between the figure and the ground.”
What is at stake in this relationship she says “is not a desire to make something transcendent or sublime, or something concrete and arguable. Instead, the works probe at a very physical abstraction, at something bodily that feels simultaneously intimate and alien, particular and uncertain.”
Beth Stuart is an artist living in Toronto, Canada, and exhibiting nationally and internationally. She received a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, and an MFA from the University of Guelph. Recent solo exhibitions include two sticks in a shed at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, and the Cliques at Erin Stump Projects in Toronto. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including a recent Honourable Mention in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition. She is currently an instructor at OCADU.
This exhibition is generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville.
The Latcham Gallery is a public art gallery dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art. The Gallery is located on the Main Street in Stouffville, 45 minutes north-east of Toronto, Ontario.
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