To be content as a mother, you’ve got to love disorder. That bit of wisdom is embedded the title of Fréderique Ulman-Gagné’s current exhibition at La Centrale, one of Montreal’s artist-run centres with a feminist mandate. Aimer le Désordre showcases seventeen paintings depicting the artist’s role as a mother. By collaborating with her son, Ulman-Gagné creates dynamic works that speak of balance, routine, and the celebration of motherhood in contemporary art.
Historically, many female painters have evoked the subject of motherhood into their art. The work of such talented artists as Christiane Pflug and Mary Pratt, for example, has negotiated motherhood’s relationship to the environment, responsibilities, and emotions. Retrospectively, these women are now considered feminist artists who called attention to the difficulties of compromising their artistic practice for the benefit of their children. Contemporary feminism has taken this further by celebrating motherhood as an extension of the artist instead of an investigation into sacrifice, of which Aimer le Désordre sets a strong example.
Ulman-Gagné compares the gestures in the paintings to the repetitive motions of her day-to-day life, such as stirring soup or washing dishes. Throughout the series, she explores her personal and domestic surroundings. The paintings are gestural and erratic on their own but work together to form a cohesive and visually engaging whole, a haphazard routine, using what she calls “chaos as a self-generating still-life.”
The unconventional placement of the paintings on the wall – some large pieces hung almost precariously high and small intimate pieces were so low visitors need to crouch, as if addressing a child – echoing the domestic environment in which these works were created. Paintings navigate the gallery walls, drawing attention to the interior space and architecture of the gallery.
Lively, engaging colours and a variety of textures add a drawn element to the pieces. These elements evoke a child’s scribbles, adding activity and movement. Representational elements of a domestic space are implied, such as windows or of Lego blocks strewn on the floor, creating familiar and endearingly disordered narratives. Every piece is painted on wood. In several paintings the wood is allowed to act as a background, demonstrating Ulman-Gagné’s approach to a painting as an assembled object.
Aimer le Désordre is a visually engaging exhibit with eye-catching works, encouraging St. Laurent pedestrians to pause and take a look. It also contains a clear, subtle, and relatable narrative that stands as an important contribution to the empowerment of women and mothers, proving that an artist’s practice has the ability to extend into all facets of her identity. The mundane can bring value to the development of a body of work.
Continues at La Centrale, 4296 St-Laurent Boulevard, through March 17.