Lorraine Simms captures fugitives: Capturing fugitives

Capturing fugitives

Fugitive 9 stares on

Montreal portraitist Lorraine Simms deals with dubious identities

Montreal painter Lorraine Simms has entered a life of crime. Well, not really – more of a phase of criminal investigation, let’s say. For the last couple years, Simms, mainly a portraitist, has been imagining and imaging the identity issues of people living on the wrong side of law.

Fugitive, her latest series, exhibited until April 12 at Maison de la Culture Marie-Uguay, unites eight large, extreme close-ups of women, shown side by side in a circle. The intimacy the paintings engender is nothing short of freakish – it’s their eyes, their intense gaze that practically makes the viewer blush. But these women aren’t friends of the artist’s, or historical figures she is capturing for posterity – they are, one and all, fugitives from the law.

What piqued Simms’ interest in these women was the fluidity of their identities. Most of her chosen subjects are wanted for fraud. Many are con artists, and in some cases wanted under a variety of aliases. They are women used to shifting shapes. The transformative process that happens when Simms translates her source material -photographs found in papers and on the Internet, most of them blurred, in black and white or thumbnail in size – into large-scale, vibrantly coloured canvases, then, is oddly appropriate. In a way, she is manipulating the women’s identities, the natural prerogative of any portraitist. But also, she is aiding them. She is dissimulating these fugitives in a camouflage of pigment.

When I visited Simms in her studio a few months ago and saw these works in progress, they were more representational. In their finished state, they have become resonant, grand objects that dance an incredibly more intricate ballet around their subject matter. Simms’ palette bursts with citrus, sky, earth, black, and, fascinatingly, white. Areas of the canvases that were detailed a few months ago have been whitewashed, suggesting an ethereal disappearance – of the woman pictured, or of our ability to identify her?

Make sure you see these impressive works before the exhibition ends on April 15. Maison de la Culture Marie-Uguay is a great space in a charming neighbourhood that’s become more and more of an artistic epicentre – cheap housing has drawn some of the city’s best. Let it draw you in too.

Maison de la Culture Marie-Uguay (6052 Monk), to April 15

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Visual Arts