CBC Art Minute (Fall 2018):
photo by Lindsay Elliott
P r e v i o u s p r e s s c o v e r a g e :
R e v i e w s f o r G r e a t B l a c k F i r e (Fall 2011):
A particular character recurs throughout Rebecca Chaperon’s small, surreal paintings. With her dark hair, pale skin, and youthful build, this figure reads a lot like a self-portrait, often situated alone in a sombre, leafless landscape. Chaperon insists, however, that while the being’s depiction may recall her own body and proportions, the psychologically charged situations she finds herself in are not necessarily autobiographical. “It’s not like I set out to say, ‘Okay, this is me and this happened to me,’ ” the artist explains during an interview with the Straight at the grunt gallery. “I want the painting to feel a bit more open, so that you can look at it and see yourself in it, especially as a female.”
As Chaperon guides us past her new suite of paintings, “Like a Great Black Fire”, on view at the grunt until October 15, she talks a little about her interest in creating mysterious narratives, often drawn directly from her unconscious mind but replete with metaphors of identity and transformation. She also mentions the inspiration she has found in the work of early surrealists Remedios Varo and Dorothea Tanning, especially in their finely wrought, highly symbolic depictions of the emotional lives of women. Another influence is the 15th-century fantasist Hieronymus Bosch.
Born in England, Chaperon did most of her growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, before moving to the West Coast in her late teens. She took a year of general studies at Kwantlen College before transferring to Emily Carr Institute. And she credits one of her instructors at Emily Carr, printmaker Martin Borden, with showing her “how to think about” her own work. “He’d see a scribble that I’d done and say, ‘That’s actually really interesting,’ ” Chaperon recalls. “And it would be something nonintentional, whereas maybe something I was really focused on would be a bit too contrived. So he allowed me to see that there was room for letting things happen.”
The things Chaperon lets happen in her small paintings fall somewhere between spooky surrealism and enchanted fairy tale. Her female protagonist may be submerged in water and holding aloft an unmarked flag. Or she may be climbing a tree or brandishing two swords or engulfed in flame-like strands of fabric. The landscape she occupies is often executed in brackish browns and greens, under an equally dark sky. “I was interested in a feeling of the unconscious and a night-time state of being where things are not illuminated,” Chaperon says of her sombre palette.
Since graduating from Emily Carr in 2002, she has developed an underground following, exhibiting her work in small galleries and taking part in offbeat group shows. “Like a Great Black Fire” represents a leap forward for her: from a deep, dark, unconscious place, this artist has emerged into the critical light of day.
- Above article from Georgia Straight by Robin Laurence September 15, 2011 -
The cover of this month’s Preview magazine caught my eye. It features a painting from Rebecca Chaperon’s new exhibition at Grunt Gallery, Like a Great Black Fire. Intrigued by the enigmatic content of the cover piece, I headed down to Grunt to take a closer look.
The paintings in the exhibition are arranged on the gallery wall much like a pictorial story book. The very composition of the images within the gallery space directly implies a narrative that can be read in a linear fashion: the first painting in the series prefaces the rest, featuring the name of Chaperon’s narrative across the canvas in a font reminiscent of art nouveau film posters. Each subsequent image depicts a tableau of sorts, some featuring recurring motifs and characters engaged in obscure activities, others depicting only a dark landscape devoid of any subject at all.
Though the works are interconnected, they are also distinct images that could be displayed on their own terms. The size, composition, and content of each image moves from one to the next. They variously include elements that are objective and abstract, surrealistic, and naturalistic. The sum result is a body of unique work that is both synergistic and diverse in the extent of its breadth, although some pieces (such as the one featured on the Preview cover) stand out due to their visual balance, careful composition, and comparably higher detail.
But what about the narrative itself?
Broadly speaking, Like a Great Black Fire seems like an illustration of a perverse parable, an inscrutable meditation on the mechanics of a universe that is governed by a series of intangible doctrines. It is an oppressive space, rife with rituals and circumstances that are esoteric and illusive in their nature; there is a palpable sense of silence, evinced by the dulled exoticism of these circumstances and the creatures that pervade them. It is as if the very atmosphere of Chaperon’s world has been muffled. The tone of these images, then, evokes a kind of purgatory – populated by a consort of unsettling, cartoon-like female figures, suspended in a state of ambiguous discomfort.
Interspersed throughout the visual space are abstract geometric shapes that threaten the linearity of Chaperon’s narrative. They interject into the composition, further subverting any sense of rational comprehension while conveying a macabre transcendentalism—a destruction of the material and visual borders which Chaperon has imposed on the narrative.
None of these motifs would be anywhere near as compelling were it not for Chaperon’s technical ability. Although some areas are relatively rough, her figures are generally modelled with a form, depth, and sharpness that lend them a realistic quality rarely seen in the work of contemporary painters in Vancouver. The artist’s selective use of pastel hues within a landscape of foreboding sepia and monochrome, combined with flat, non-representational space, creates a distinct visual rhythm that’s almost like being in a state of sleepwalking through space.
Like a Great Black Fire is a quiet tale about a series of events that occupies a subconscious realm—a space with which I felt strangely familiar, and, I suspect, you will as well.
- Above article from Satellite Gallery by Rhys Edwards September 23, 2011 "Dark Resonance at Grunt Gallery"
“Rebecca Chaperon doesn’t care what you think. Or at least I don’t think she cares what you think. I see her as a conjurer of that which you feel. This is an artist of patent indulgence. It may feel as though she turned her back on you but has in fact taken you by the hand into a darker, cooler place. It smells earthen, of rot. The moon is veiled by an oily haze and perhaps something has died along the way.
Unwittingly welcomed into Chaperon’s world, you are confronted by sentiments of what one tends to tuck away under the mattress and into the bedroom closet. The journey would be easy enough if it was simply all her own but there is a distinct sense of familiarity that can dredge up the silt you intended to remain settled. These macabre murmurs in your head, now re-spoken to you with clarity. A conversation that started generations before in the underbelly of the Victorian era, she continues this bleak allegory with the sentiment of a girl dissuaded by Catholic rule and freely forges her own vignettes to pass on to others of similar sensitivities. Somewhere between a Happy Unbirthday and a walk through Dante’s Inferno extinguished, her imagery holds us sway, a storm-soaked storybook where even characters of seemingly incorruptible purity have daggers hiding behind their back. You wonder who these characters are, how they came to arrive and why they’ve been caught in such blighted situations. Each notion within her work asks a question, but the answer remains as to when Rebecca lets go of your hand, if you will find your way back.”
- Above statement by Graeme Berglund, Founder of the Cheaper Show, Artist -
“As an emerging artist, Chaperon has an extensive body of work that stretches back nearly a decade. But don't let the term "emerging" fool you: She's no stranger to the Vancouver art-scene and this first major solo exhibit doesn't fail to show her maturity as an artist Chaperon has decided to take this new series in an ambitious direction that will not fail to impress those familiar with her work.
Like a Great Black Fire remains familiar, yet fresh and reads like a fine bottle of wine: tones of pop-surrealism with hints of that dream you keep trying to remember as you wake up. You really begin to wonder if she's in your subconscious, recording all the nuances that you eventually forget. It's her laborious attention to detail that draws you in, like that dream you keep trying to fall asleep to catch another glimpse of.
You can't help but be drawn into her invitingly playful painting technique which quietly screams off the canvas. Like A Great Black Fire is an exciting ten-canvas narrative that brings the viewer through a delightful romantic dream scape and I am nothing short of ecstatic that the Grunt Gallery has chosen to highlight her during this year's Swarm.”
- Above statement by Sonny Assu, Artist -
““Her entire placid, predictable life now seemed to hinge on this one single event, everything she’d ever felt or believed coming into terrible relief. Nothing her parents had told her, nothing she’d everlearned in school, could possibly have prepared her for this thing that was happening. Or, really, what was to follow.” Wildwood, Colin Meloy
Rebecca Chaperon creates lush visual narratives that seem to combine Hieronymus Bosch and Edward Gorey into a narrative that is uniquely her own, full of tension, adventure and suspense -- I have no idea where Chaperon is taking me, but there may be a handbasket involved. Beautifully constructed, her landscapes have an eerie Gothic feel, interrupted by bright figures out way past their bedtime. The works convey a sense of dread on one hand, and a strange adolescent innocence on the other. But it’s not juxtaposed -- there’s no uneasy conflict between the two -- rather, she marries the two themes into a happy, albeit macabre symbiosis. The result is wonderful. In choosing “wonderful” I’m not being glib in the slightest. Chaperon is extremely accomplished, which shines through the darkness of her latest series, Like a Great Black Fire. Certainly her most ambitious work to date, Like a Great Black Fire, is a large, acrylic polyptych panorama featuring a dark and stormy landscape sparsely populated by scurrying ferrets and her signaturefemale protagonists. Chaperon creates powerful females in dainty bodies. The power they possess tends to be painted into their faces, in their eyes and expressions. Black Fire gives us something new from Chaperon; throughout the work are large, less than subtle geometric shapes. A large black slash occupies the second panel, and the middle of the polyptych is dominated by a giant black cube that seems to suck up what little light there is in Chaperon’s world. The affect heightens the sense of tension in her work, creating a new uneasiness for the viewer.”
-Above statement by Todd Nickel, Gallery Atsui Co-Founder, Co-Director (former) -