Montreal's new painters: A fresh coat of paint

A fresh coat of paint

A work with a title too long to print, by Julie Beugin

Julie Beugin's Making Space inspires reflections on the state of painting in Montreal

I’ve got a weekend mission for you: Head to Optica to soak in Montreal’s new style of painting. It’s sexy and fun and referential au bout.

Julie Beugin’s candy coloured, large-scale works are dreamscapes depicting an intertwined web of architectural interiors and natural landscapes inspired by descriptions in novels and modelled after wide-ranging source material including magazine pictures and found photos. Oddly, though narratively motivated, Beugin’s works are unpeopled – only the environments are there, ready to be inhabited by our imaginary projected selves.

An obvious bookworm, Beugin quotes Paul Auster in her press material by way of describing the type of space she depicts: "The room he lived in was a dream space, and its walls were the skin of some second body around him, as if his own body had been transformed into a mind, a breathing instrument of pure thought." She creates environments that have a life – and narrative – of their own.

Interestingly, it’s an exercise we’ve seen before, most directly in the work of Montrealer Dil Hildebrand, who’s best known for perverting the course of landscape painting history. But recent visitors of the Quebec Triennial at the MAC will notice a striking kinship between some of the works by Etienne Zack and Beugin, particularly her library scene, titled (make yourself comfortable, this will take a while) He knew that it was no more than a game, but a fantastical devotion was required to play it, and that very excess of concentration was what allowed him to keep from slipping into despondency. (Beugin’s titles come from book passages too.)

Two of Zack’s works, Cycle and Marked, both also devoid of people, display the same maze of books and Pantheon-like circular structure. It’s kind of eerie. Now maybe I’m stretching it, but with the candy colours and weird, poetic Neo Rauch-ish object-associations, couldn’t Cynthia Girard’s recent work be likened to Beugin’s too? Maybe I’ve been doing this too long.

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Meanwhile, in Optica’s small room there’s a captivating series of works by Cheryl Sourkes called Webcams + Chatrooms that explores digital media and the democratization of stardom it’s created. ICQ (I seek you) is an eight-minute video showing a particularly racially racy passage in a chat discussion, intercut with manipulated webcam footage of strangers showering, fucking, doing nothing. Exhibited alongside a series of glossy photographic prints of webcam stills, it’s an addictive little series that inspires musings on the nature of voyeuristic appeal and the changing meaning of intimacy in this day and age.

Making Space
At Optica (372 Ste-Catherine W., suite 508), until June 14

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Visual Arts