Scottie Wilson, Untitled (Far Eastern Town), date unknown, ink and coloured pencil over graphite on paper. Collection of Carleton University Art Gallery: Bequest of Frances Barwick to the Department of Art History, Carleton University; transferred to the University Art Collection, 1988. Photo: Justin Wonnacott
Crafts, skin, and artist Scottie Wilson.
At first glance, the link between three independent exhibitions at the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) might not be readily apparent. But to curator Heather Anderson, the connection is clear: “One resonant point of intersection amongst the three exhibitions is the idea of crossing boundaries.”
The exhibitions — titled Making Otherwise: Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art, Inuit Art: Skin Deep, and Imaginary Worlds: Scottie Wilson and Art Brut — challenge the rigid and traditional categories imposed upon various forms of art. Instead, the shows portray art as something that is fluid and impossible to pigeonhole.
Making Otherwise explores the intersection between craft and contemporary art. Relying on materials and techniques often downplayed as belonging to craft (ceramics and textiles; knitting, quilting, woodworking, and basket weaving), the pieces question the hierarchy that separates craft from art.
“A lot of the theory that has created this hierarchy between art and craft has relied on a premise of separating thinking, doing, and material,” Anderson says. “How can you separate those things?”
Marc Courtemanche, CUAG installation shot of The Studio (2008—ongoing), stoneware, porcelain, glaze, metal, rope. Photo: Justin Wonnacott
The artists featured in the exhibition have chosen to “make otherwise” — to create something that falls outside the confines of both art and craft. One example is The Studio by Marc Courtemanche. The display depicts a woodworking studio scattered with life-sized chairs and other objects carved from wood. It’s not until you inspect closely that you realize the wood is actually clay. As Anderson observes, “His way of working with clay is very much his own.”
Inuit Art: Skin Deep joins Making Otherwise in its quest to challenge assumptions. The exhibition combines prints, stone sculptures, fur objects, whalebone, metal, and cloth to explore the practical and symbolic importance of skin.
“The exhibition looks at all these pieces and asks the question: what is skin trying to tell us?” says curator Lisa Truong, who is a PhD student in Carleton’s Cultural Mediations program. “How is it a site for inspiration or humour or critical reflection?”
The exhibition raises questions of identity and hybridity as it explores the various forms and uses of skin. The first section looks at how skin is acquired and processed into clothing. In doing so, it considers skin as a form of protection that shelters humans from the elements, along with Inuit reliance on animals and the natural world. The second section of the exhibition examines how skin can be used as a costume, disguise, or method of transformation — something that allows people to choose who they want to be. The final section explores the aesthetics of skin-based clothing (furs and hides) and tattooing as makeup or identifier.
Jean-Marie Udliak, Face of a Woman with Tattoos (1965), stone. Carleton University Art Gallery: The Drew and Carolle Anne Armour Collection of Inuit Art
By considering transitions — between animal and human forms, and between traditional and cash economies — the exhibition conveys the fluidity of boundaries. “This exhibition looks at boundaries as something permeable, and is always trying to break them,” Truong says.
The third exhibition is equally thought provoking. Imaginary Worlds: Scottie Wilson and Art Brut questions Scottie Wilson’s categorization as a creator of art brut — sometimes called “outsider art” for its disregard of artistic conventions. In 1945, the Scottish artist became associated with the art brut style, which was characterized by “rough” or untrained artists whose work was not influenced by society and culture.
But the art brut label might not be appropriate for Wilson. “The life and work of Scottie Wilson demonstrate that he was not separate from society, and that he knows what he’s doing when he draws,” says curator Pauline Goutain, a PhD exchange student at Carleton, who curated the exhibition with Jill Carrick, an associate professor in Carleton’s School for Studies in Art and Culture.
While Wilson’s imaginative drawings do align with some aspects of the art brut movement, the art brut label fails to encompass all of his work. Wilson’s Teapot is just one example of the artist’s tendency to work outside the boundaries of art brut. By painting on a manufactured teapot, Wilson challenged art brut’s reliance on original and handmade creations.
Scottie Wilson, Teapot, Royal Worcester Crown Ware (1960s), porcelain. Private collection. Photo: Lauren Wood. In addition to painting on readymade items, Wilson was commissioned by the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company in the 1960s to create designs for dinner, tea and coffee services. By entering into commercial ventures like this, Wilson not only demonstrated his market savvy, but defied attempts to pigeonhole him as an outsider artist.
The exhibition offers viewers a chance to acquaint themselves with Scottie Wilson and the art brut style. While Wilson’s work is included in the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection, neither Wilson nor art brut have received much attention in Canada.
“In Europe, Scottie Wilson is very, very well-known,” says Goutain, who was surprised, when she arrived from France, to find many of Wilson’s works sitting in storage rather than on display at the CUAG. “It’s an opportunity to show that Scottie Wilson was an important artist in Canada.”
Although unique and independent, the exhibitions are nonetheless connected. Whether it’s crafts, skin, or Scottie Wilson, the shows demonstrate the value of doing something differently, challenging preconceived notions, and crossing boundaries.
Inuit Art: Skin Deep is on display at the CUAG until August 10, while Imaginary Worlds: Scottie Wilson and Art Brut runs until September 7 and Making Otherwise: Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art runs until September 14. Please click here for more information.
Ariana Armstrong has a Bachelor's Degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management, with honours, and is currently in her second year of the Master's program in Journalism at Carleton University. She interned at Muse Magazine and Global National before joining NGC Magazine.
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