The theme for the latest group exhibition came easily to artist and curator Claudine Ascher of Galerie de la Ville in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.
In the Dollard Centre for the Arts’ lower-level gallery, dolls have taken over the space, in various forms and interpretations.
“I realized the only things I have from my life as a child are three dolls that my parents went to great lengths to bring with them when we came to Canada from Brazil in 1962,” Ascher says.
“So, for this show, I decided to call the gallery The Doll House and have the participating artists think about the doll not just as something they played with as children, but as an object that affected their lives and even impacted society.”
The resulting 49 works by 26 artists do just that. They include Ascher’s work, At the Gardener’s, a floral tribute to childhood playtime that developed into a passionate adult green thumb. It is represented by a doll-sized paper reconstruction of a home and garden, covered in collages of confetti-like bits of colour photos.
The joy of her gardening hobby is particularly evident in a jack-in-the-box piece where the gardener pops up from an arrow-shaped bower. Ascher’s medium arose from her need to divest herself of boxes of photographs taken of her perennial flowering garden, which cheered her during the grey days of winter.
“As we become more digitized, we’re encouraged to reduce our physical stuff, but I didn’t want to throw them out, so I started cutting them up into photo bits,” she says.
Linda Beck-Sidel’s art is a more literal rendering, via acrylic and photo transfer on canvas. In one, seen through the mists of the more than 30 years that have elapsed, her then baby son hides in plain sight among his stuffed animals, “like E.T. in the closet,” says the artist.
A second work is of a red-gowned Barbie doll in triplicate, a sort of cinematic frame progression on a single canvas, titled Dancing, Dancing, Dancing. Beck-Sidel is currently teaching the method at the centre, in a course on image transfers and acrylics using photography.
Mona Israel-Arsenault, who’s well known in Montreal for her activism regarding accessibility for the disabled and as a promoter of polio awareness and the president of the Learning Exchange, is also a talented free-form bead artist.
One contribution to the exhibition is her fashion doll covered in minute beads, with flowing rooted bead hair and long fingernails.
A second piece is a beaded skirt on a miniature dress, and a third combines faces with peacock-like Shibori silk, a type of pleated Japanese tie-dye.
“I don’t like to make jewellery, so I learned to knit and crochet beads into art 25 years ago. For this show, I remembered how my mother got rid of all my dolls without my permission,” says Israel-Arsenault.
The wistfulness of childhood is evident in her swinging doll, with its blank porcelain face supplied by Agnes Zoni.
Victoria Block created her own ceramic art in the form of a round, patterned earthenware hassock, cradling a white painted plastic doll. It resembles Moses in the bulrushes, against a canvas of turbulent water.
In the painting, a drowning man tumbles among the fishes, a symbol that may be read as falling into the uncertainties of adulthood.
Another of her pieces graces the show invitation: a real chair and doll superimposed, one upon the other, and melded together by a pattern. “I’m fascinated with complexity and camouflage,” says Block. “I never liked dolls when I was a kid, but if you add a doll to other things, it’s theatre, in a way. You’re really telling a story.”
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