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"Girl in Brown Suit"
Janet Werner, "Girl in Brown Suit," 2009, oil on canvas, 66” x 55”. Collection Majudia, Montreal.
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Photographer: David Jacques
Janet Werner, "Bear," 2010, oil on canvas, 88” x 66”. Collection of Sophie Dynbort at Duncan Ross.
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Janet Werner, "The Glove," 2010, oil on canvas, 88” x 67". Courtesy of Parisian Laundry, Montreal.
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Janet Werner, "Earthling," 2012, oil on canvas, 108” x 78”. Collection of Musee d’art Contemporain de Montreal.
JANET WERNER: Another Perfect Day
College Art Galleries, Saskatoon
February 8 – May 4, 2013
By Lissa Robinson
The ubiquitous role of the female figure in 20th and 21st century popular culture permeates Janet Werner: Another Perfect Day, at the University of Saskatchewan. Curator Kent Archer has chosen works that capture the unique brand of portraiture developed by Werner over the past decade. The exhibition, organized by the Kenderdine Art Gallery and the College Art Galleries, contains some 30-plus paintings spanning the years 2000 to 2012. This ambitious survey highlights specific periods of Werner’s production, while also making prominent the thematic idiosyncrasies and continuums that have led to her quirky cast of female characters.
The exhibition is impressive with its vast sense of scale, composition and colour, but also in the way it tells a story about Werner's preoccupation with the female persona in popular culture. Spending time with her characters is a daunting, but riveting, experience. Werner collages and transforms images from fashion magazines, popular culture and naive painting, inventing altered personalities and narratives that are often aesthetically jarring and psychologically unsettling. She seems to cajole her characters into scenarios that shift between reality and fiction, while questioning notions of beauty by distorting or toying with their poses and expressions.
One thing that makes this exhibition so enticing is that the paintings are not hung chronologically. Instead, they intermingle in ways that allow broader themes to surface, while also pointing out contrasts between themes, sizes, palettes (luminous versus muted) and styles (realism versus abstraction). The more robust and monolithic personas in paintings like Earthling (2012) and Big Girl (2011) are iconic and confrontational, while smaller works like Back (2011) and Mink (2000) are more intimately and delicately rendered. However, despite these differences, all the works play with distortion while exploring different ways of presenting the figure. As you move through the exhibition, the cast shifts from Barbie-like models in idyllic settings to muted characters with voided faces to women-animal hybrids. Indeed, the exhibition’s structure helps illuminate an artist fully engaged with portraiture.
It also becomes abundantly clear just how well Werner knows painting. A smear on the mouth or a slight shift of colour in the eyes turns the cheery, polka-dot blond in Happy (2009) into a woman on the verge of a maniacal breakdown. Or, in The Glove (2010), an elegantly postured girl is awkwardly caught in the midst of her droopy attire. With a discerning eye and beguiling brush strokes, Werner has a masterful knack for playing with proportions and uses the swiftness of her brush to offer glimpses into the elusive psyche of her misfits and other fictitious characters. They come alive – some sensual and iconic, others more humourous and blighted – within carefully staged frames that almost canonize their poised expressions.