Thursday, January 29, 2009

Q&A: Julie Beugin on Indoor/Outdoor Painting

Julie Beugin is an emerging Montreal painter who drew me in this summer with her technicolour landscape "The sequence of doors we passed made me think of all of the rooms of my past and future," pictured above. Recently, because she had a show of more paintings in Toronto, I got a chance to chat with her on the phone about why so many Canadian painters of her era--think Martin Golland, Melanie Authier and Melanie Rocan, among others--are into exploding the walls between indoor and outdoor landscapes. Our condense Q&A is at the National Post and also after the jump. (Show @ Paul Petro to Feb 7)

Inserting home on to the range
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This week's throne speech emphasized uncertainty. But what if that uncertainty wasn't reflected just in fiscal policy, but in our homes and backyards? Such ideas come up when looking at artworks by Montreal painter Julie Beugin; in her topsy-turvy landscapes, instability is both stomach-churning and sumptuous. Now, with an exhibition at Paul Petro Gallery in Toronto, Beugin tells Leah Sandals about literary inspirations, '70s home décor and nouveau-Crusoe attitudes.

Q Recently, you've shifted from painting shoddy cardboard house models to creating technicolour meldings of inside and outside - meadows inserted into living rooms, swamps into kitchens. Why?

A Making cardboard models became a way to create a space that didn't exist - an imaginary space like Robinson Crusoe's hut, say. And I wanted to paint the models because photography would make it too actual for me. I also liked the way the cardboard was falling apart; it was a useful way to represent how imaginary spaces are unstable.

That shifted when I wanted to bring back colour and explore the drippy, liquid nature of paint as another metaphor for instability. I guess cutting open the walls of houses in more recent works reflects how landscape can become a projection of a mental state.

Q Books often appear in your paintings, whether stacked in huge shelves or open on tabletops. Why?

A Well, a lot of the paintings start from literary sources and stories. That was a way to make sure I didn't make the same images all the time. I'm a huge reader, with piles of books all over my apartment. When you're reading and you have images floating in your brain - that's a singular experience, but it's also something many others can experience through the book. Books also become a metaphor for mental clutter, I think.

Q Do certain books inspire you?

A Yes. But the images I get from the books are really subjective; some people who have read those books often say, "Wow, I didn't picture that at all."

I liked working with Paul Auster texts for a while, because he's interested in writers' desks and other spaces of creativity. Lately it's `. He was born in Japan and grew up in the U.S., so he's got this mix of pop cultures. And crazy things happen in his books that let me create spaces that have less logic to them. Novels are starting points for me to be more imaginative.

Q Where else do your source images come from?

A It's a mix. Sometimes it's found images; I have a big collection of interior décor books from the '70s that I found in thrift stores. There's this mix of nostalgia but also a bit of kitsch, a sincerity as well as a bit of irony. Old postcards can be good. I also use my own photos, and I always have my camera with me. I'm constantly digging through image sources.

Q Are any of these paintings inspired by places you've lived?

A Sometimes. I grew up in Calgary and my parents have a cabin in Invermere, B.C. So the whole cabin motif keeps coming back, and views of the Canadian landscape from hiking and camping. But it can also be inspired by places that I live now; I'll go take photos of Montreal and particular libraries and stuff like that. In future, I might explore making paintings of specific places rather than imaginary ones.

Q There are some other youngish Canadian painters working in this vein, combining interiors with exteriors - Martin Golland, Melanie Authier and Melanie Rocan come to mind. Why do you think this theme recurs for you and your peers?

A I think that landscape is inextricable from the Canadian imagination, how we see ourselves and construct our identity. So it is no surprise that so many young artists are engaged with it. But the challenge is to avoid perpetuating that idea of an untouched pristine wilderness, which was popularized by the Group of Seven and others. That idea of wilderness makes no sense within a context of deep environmental concern.

Though there are big differences between artists, I think a lot of young painters are approaching this concern by emphasizing ephemerality - using paint and brush marks to represent an unstable and transitory version of landscape. Some painters also represent a very personal mental landscape, one that is constructed through memory and imagination rather than an unquestioned, static idea of wilderness.

-Julie Beugin's paintings show to Feb. 7 at Paul Petro Gallery in Toronto. For more information, visit


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you wrote about Julie. I love what she is doing, and that you can already see a process evolving in her work. Thanks for posting.

Leah Sandals said...

Thanks Heather!