Vie des arts # 207, Summer 2007
Dorothy Grostern: A Time of Innocence
May 9 - 23
Beaux Arts David Astrof
Thomson House, 3650 McTavish
The autobiographical component is intrinsic to the arts. It sounds a particularly poignant note in Canada, a country, more than any other, composed of immigrants; people whose personal histories weigh heavily.
AWhether burdened, or blessed, with memories of a childhood in another country, many Canadian artists imbue their work with fragile reminiscences, from Dina Podolskyís never-ending Moscow Diary to Yehouda Chakiís pantheon of forgotten faces in Mi Makir.
Dorothy Grostern has spent her younger years in several cultures, finally settling in Montreal, where she has honed her creative talent. A highly narrative artist, she weaves personal stories into her compositions, charging her mixed-media works with emotions and profound reflection.
Her recent series, A Time of Innocence at Maison Thomson, is particularly close to the artistís heart; at once homage to her ailing elderly mother and a meditation on passing.
Some of the images are taken from old photographs, but since few survived, Grostern relied on her memory to build the series, thus transforming it from the documentary into the painterly.
In several works, the composition is divided into two images, with a garment on one side and a human figure on the other, or, in one case, focusing only on her parentsí wedding clothes, forsaking the human models.
The symbolism is deeply personal Ė the artistís mother sewed most of these garments herself Ė but also universal. From Jim Dyne to Jacques Payette and Betty Goodwin, artists have incorporated clothing into their works, seeing in it endless plastic and narrative possibilities.
Like shed skin, clothes carry the scent and the shape of the person who wore them, and into their threads are woven endless human tales.
It is these memories that are at the heart of Grosternís latest works, as she struggles with a difficult personal chapter in her life, seeking in her art both a release of her own pain, and a way of communicating a higher truth about the fragility of our human existence.
Somewhat naÔve and tender, these pastel and oil-paint stick on paper drawings offer a peak into an intimate journal that lures us with its colourful pages only to tug at the heart with its story.
Little girls giggle while posing for an invisible camera; a serious young bride and her dashing groom resemble a cut-out from an antique postcard; an empty red chair sits against a row of trees ... the pages turn imperceptibly.
Perhaps the most accomplished of the works is the eponymous A Time of Innocence, encompassing the essence of whatís at the core of Grosternís latest production. Two young girls, clasping hands, walk quietly past a sleeping woman reclining in a chair, half hidden in the shadow.
It is the passing. The never-ending cycle of life, where for each hand we grasp there is one we have to let go of.