The Centre for All Canadians
3 Suspension Points, 2011, oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm

Magalie Comeau: Architactrices and Other Living Spaces

3 Suspension Points, 2011, oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm
The Montreal painter inserts miniature, imaginary architectural spaces into a flat expanse of white canvas.

RBC Foundation

Magalie Comeau’s paintings enact a struggle between different ways of perceiving space, and by situating these contrasting kinds of experience in and around intimate domestic interiors, draw out their implications in everyday life. From a distance, her work appears to represent distance itself, and a broad, scanning view. The paintings embody the ostentatiously pure aesthetic of 20th century design; the white cube of the contemporary gallery; the monochrome canvas. Softly lit perspectival lines extend from small areas of darkness and density in a clean 3-dimensional grid that might be derived from digital architectural renderings. The paintings appear to reflect a vision of the world as an infinitely extendable network of interlocking, legible spaces, all specific incidents subordinate to a rational, abstract, and ideal order.

Comeau has carved out of this groundless, expansive space, small, inward worlds of specificity and detail. And indeed, these intimate spaces, which appear alternately built into or projecting out from the canvas, are clearly the focus of the artist’s care and craft. Their reduced scale, and the technical mastery that went into their making, demand a different kind of looking just as they must have demanded a high level of close attention from the artist. This intimate, almost voyeuristic kind of looking into secret, dreamlike settings is of a different order than the distanced view called upon by the white field. It seems to involve a kind of forgetting of the larger picture, an inward involvement in the singularity of a given work. And indeed there is great variety among what Comeau calls the “Architactrices”—an invented word that suggests a subjective, sentient architecture, with the agency of an actress (actrice) who is apparently the painter herself, and by extension a possible viewer who grants her worlds a deep attention. These “living spaces” are to be inhabited, and they are also alive.

Each of the miniature spaces, the focal points of the paintings, has its own specific quality, but many of them appear vulnerable, fading into the larger white field as if their uniqueness were under threat. Part of this effect is simply due to their scale in relation to the size of the canvas, but it is also reinforced by the frequent presence of organic, though not fully articulated “bodies,” in positions of display and apparent nakedness. It is as if the artist wishes to equate the close-up vision she demands with an unmarked, unformed state of subjectivity, one both caught in a larger web of rationalized architectural space, and productive of proliferating, unconsciously-derived worlds. The artist clearly favours the latter possibility, even as she presents it in a state of suspense and possible dissolution against a harsh, generalizing white light. The intimacy of the encounter with her small worlds is bound up with the sense of touch, and the refusal of the broad view, an individual, sensual attention that doggedly struggles against larger systems of control by means of its own refusal to articulate its presence within a wider logic of pictorial space.

Magalie Comeau: Architactrices and Other Living Spaces is curated by Pan Wendt.

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