Vie des Arts #199 English

Brenda Kennedy: In Your Face
June 6 -20
Beaux arts David Astrof
Thomson House, 3650 McTavish
Tel.: 514-286-2476 / 1-888-932-4883

Brenda Kennedy has quietly and consistently produced a body of portrait works that are very much about the world of her social experience in southeastern Ontario where she lives. These paintings are like snapshots - surprise moments - but for all their instantaneity they are produced in the slow medium of painting. As paintings they acquire a different sense than the original clichéé photos they interpret. While Kennedy readily admits these paintings are produced from photos and not actual models, as art they capture a sensibility true to our era, where the image holds more intensity than the reality in mediatic terms. Photos that formed the basis of these paintings were gathered from neighbours and friends, and people in the region. For instance, there are seven Susan portraits in the show, all women who are artists. These sharp, full focus realist style portraits are chosen at random. They defy the commemorative or official portrait’s sanctity because their subjects are ordinary people,actual people. They probably would never have considered being painted for reasons of posterity.

Live culture being what it is, Brenda Kennedy’s considers her paintings as a kind of theatre, where images are transformed from photo to painting. This world painted from life balances itself precariously and distills experience in the process. These paintings do speak for their times, as snapshot moments. Other paintings on view in Kennedy’s In Your Face show offer a break from the portrait mode. They include three recent paintings of trucks from Mexico rife with a nostalgia born of exploration and travel. Other anomalies include still life's of a black tulip and a stalk of rhubarb.

The actual presentational frames these painted portrait scenarios are in enhance the eclectic character of the subjects and the presentation. Each frame has its own particular cachet. As Kennedy states: "We've been collecting them for a long time and the more ostentatious the better and some of course are quite wrecked so I've had to repair and gussy them up. It's been interesting to treat the frame as part of the painting and to make it part of the creative process. For instance with the "Me trying to be Frida Kahlo (again)", I've wrapped the frame in surgical gauze. Not to mention the savings when one recycles... I’m also partial to older materials and the way things used to look and for a while I made assemblage pieces so there’s a reference to that.

In one portrait painting we see two elderly but still smiling Women with Necklaces (2004) staring out at us. The strange similarities between two Redheads (2004) is not just these twins’ facial or physiognomic but also the way their inner characters are alike. Kennedy brings this out in her own eclectic and penetrating painterly style. She does the same with Men with Glasses (2004) and Man with Fedora (2004). It is the contrary nature of these portraits. Like genre paintings in the 18th or 19th century, they fulfill a standard representational norm. The difference is that they challenge social norms and standards rather than upholding them because the painterly focus in the individual persona of each subject. A large horizontal painting of Sacred Hearts School Girls from Cornwall (2005) captures six full frontal facial features of youth with a sense of the magical moment (like a photograph). Kennedy even turns her paintbrush on herself, capturing her own portrait persona at various times; a funny moment in one such painting and caught in ludicrous self-absorption for another. Full frontal, askance or in tandem, Kennedy’s paintings take the snapshot for a walk back to an enclosed garden that is the portrait subject. A lot of fun!

- John K. Grande