The Locke Street Studio was briefly located on Locke Street South in Hamilton, a great neighbourhood tucked in between downtown to the east, the 403 expressway to the west, and to the south, Kirkendall, or what we used to call the “Aberdeen Area” which, as it sounds, was built during the era of Scottish supremacy in the city. Locke Street South was the commercial artery for a mostly working-class part of Hamilton. Around 1990, this is where Stan Rath, my one-time boss, opened the first version of Rath Art Supplies, then called Rath Paper – a great name. When Stan decided to move shop downtown, to King Street West (before eventually relocating to Vancouver), the Locke Street storefront was empty for a few weeks, providing myself and two other artists with space for our first group exhibition, the Locke Street Studio Show, in the spring of 1991.
Photograph by Andrew Little of the façade of the Locke Street Studio, 1991, showing my sculpture David (After Michelangelo) (1990).
Exhibitors included myself, sculptor Andrew Little, and mixed media (drawing, painting, sculpture) artist Chris Wilkins, who would later be a member of the artist group, Compound. Chris showed a series of large, mixed-media canvases on the south wall of the space. The interior view, below, shows what I always thought was the best view of the David sculpture and, to the right, partial views of some of Chris Wilkins’ gorgeous paintings.
Andrew Little showed a series of meticulously carved heads, based on the mysterious and famous colossal heads at Easter Island. My work was a mixture of painting and sculpture, most of which I had made in the context of my fine arts undergraduate degree at McMaster, which was still underway.
Above, a photograph by Andrew Little of the interior of the Locke Street Studio, showing the wall where my work was installed. On view are several sculptures of snakes emerging out of painted wooden boxes, followed by several large canvases, and my fabric David.
The Three Graces, above, was a triptych built out of stretched canvas on a custom stretcher, and two side panels of even greater complexity in terms of construction. This was one of the first paintings in which I explored an unusually-shaped support as a form of sculpture. The subject, which appropriates a section of Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera (c. 1482), shows my interest in my art history courses. Several of my works in this exhibition were painterly responses to Italian Renaissance art.
Photograph: Andrew Little
Above, standing in the shopfront of the Locke Street Studio with my floral David (After Michelangelo), a work that continued this interest in the art of the Renaissance, still hegemonically the “greatest” era of “man’s” artistic achievement, according to my courses. As a young female art student I was continuously confronted with the fact that the majority of my professors (and certainly all the tenured faculty) were men, that almost all the art we studied was by men, the texts by men, and the top students in my studio courses were also … men. My David was a feminist gesture of self-assertion within this highly masculinist environment, where “culture” and success were already, always gendered male. My paintings and sculptures were, in their own perhaps cheeky ways, attempts to work with the status of, say, a sculpture by Michelangelo or a painting by Botticelli, to play with many viewers’ familiarity with such iconic works of art. At the same time, these works were real efforts to engage with materials, such as the floral, cotton fabric that my mother loved and collected compulsively, and the affect of such materials. What does it mean to remake Michelangelo’s David , this emblem of hard, marble masculinity, in Liberty cloth? Interestingly, this work received very positive feedback from male and female professors. It was also very nice to cuddle.
Above, a piece I made for the exhibition, Regency, shown in my mother’s back garden. In this sculpture I continued the exploration of fabric, sculpture, and the gendering of form.
My palette at this time is also a reflection of my desire to work deliberately with form, colour, pattern, and themes that were coded “female” or “feminine”. Part of this exploration included the female nude, but this was something I soon abandoned as I was unable to reconcile the creation of images of nude women’s bodies with the growing realization that such representations participate in a sexist visual economy that demeans women. Still, I enjoyed making these paintings and especially working against the norms of female beauty in the early 1990s, epitomized by “heroin chic” and painfully thin supermodels.
Pandora’s Box, acrylic on custom-built canvas, c 1991.