Sunday, 17 January 2016

Charmaine Wheatley from harlot to polite painter

When I last saw Charmaine Wheatley I was participating in an artist performance piece.  I was a willing reveller with sidewalk construction workers while Charmaine was more a Biblical harlot.  She was being carried aloft a palaquin of taxidermy bears, moose, etc.  The confused public watched uncertain if we were a new religious group or a sorority.  

This time it was my turn to be confused when I received this press release from a Boston art gallery and residency where it appears Charmaine Wheatley is painting watercolours and doing polite things.  Maybe it is all a part of the balance of life.  Actually, Wheatley's output is diverse and the activities that are described by the gallery bring to mind the profile and sketches she did while visiting Mary Pratt here in Newfoundland.

BOSTON, MA (Jan. 2016) – Artist-in-Residence and Canadian artist Charmaine Wheatley spent many mornings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s courtyard with her miniature watercolor kit, painting nasturtiums cascading from the windows, works of art, gallery employees, visitors and other noteworthy moments of her time living there.

The result is an exhibition of 25 drawings and sets of objects called, Charmaine Wheatley: Souvenirs, in the Museum’s Fenway Gallery through Oct. 10. Wheatley, a Canadian who lives between Newfoundland and New York, is a performance and multimedia artist. She produced most of the work in the exhibition as a direct response to her residency at the Museum in 2012, and it captures an artist’s unique perspective into the life, language, and history of a museum through a very personal form of portraiture rooted in conversational exchanges with people. Her work is intimate and unique as a result. 

As an Artist-in-Residence, Wheatley spent weeks exploring the galleries and archives. She loved pouring over Mrs. Gardner’s guest books, photographs, sketch books, watercolors, and other correspondence from her many admirers. She spent time in the Conservation Labs drawing objects and textiles, including a tiny, narrow purple pair of satin shoes with Louis the XV heels from Chapelle, in Paris that were Mrs. Gardner’s. They are among the items included in Souvenirs which was curated by Pieranna Cavalchini, the Museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art.

Wheatley appreciated how Mrs. Gardner spoke with artist friends, and when she was in residency again this past September 2015, she spent time greeting visitors in the Living Room and drew live portraits of them while conversing.

For the exhibit, Wheatley created a special artist edition (1/300) and five artist proofs – in the form of a 3-D printed small tin box filled with reproductions of her watercolor drawings and notes - that is on sale in Gift at the Gardner. “Enclosed please find a selection of drawings, begun as a method of keeping track of moments during my overwhelming artist in residency,” writes Wheatley in a letter included in the edition. “Recording a passing moment, intending to do a perfect job but then my subject matter moves or I’m bumped or have to move myself… something always happens to make my perfect imperfect but that imperfection makes each mark human…unique…accepting life as it finds me is my kind of perfect. More manageable and honest would be to consider these scratches of observation as souvenirs, snapshots. Drawing, being slow, affords the chance to sink more fully into the moment, noticing sounds, smells, feelings.”

Wheatley has written several books: Beau Fleuve: The Heart of North America (2006), 30% of Buffalo (2009), and Brett’s Ball (2014). She has published comics and produced performance work for various galleries in Canada, Boston, Buffalo, New York City, and Amsterdam. From 2002 to 2005, Wheatley teamed up with DJ sound artist Taketo Shimada to create performance projects based on “Charmaine,” a 1920s song written by Erno Rapee and Lew Pollack. Using printed materials, sound, and sculptures, the work was presented at galleries in New York and Toronto.

Her work is held by the Museum of Modern Art, and she has also been an artist-in-residence at Pace University, Seven Below Arts Initiative, and the Confederation Centre for the Arts/Parks Canada.

The Artist-in-Residence Program at the Gardner Museum is directed by the Pieranna Cavalchini Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art and is supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Barbara Lee Program Fund. Wheatley's residency was also supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support provided by the Canadian Council. The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Wheatley received direct support from The Canada Council for the Arts; Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.

Media sponsor: Boston Magazine.

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