Colleen Heslin: Needles and Pins

January 23 - May 8, 2016

Opening reception: Friday, January 22, 6-10pm

Colleen Heslin’s paintings resonate with the tension of material and gestural complexity. Successfully fusing thought and action, the work dismantles material hierarchy by providing equal space to art and craft. Considering formal abstraction and craft-based methods of mark making, Heslin’s work thoroughly explores colour, shape, and texture. Constructed out of hand-dyed and ink-stained fabric, the work acknowledges histories of photography and textiles, and finds connections with the Colour Field painters of the 1960s and 1970s.

Early experiments that led to this current body of work aimed to reduce painting to core support and surface components of fabric, wood, and pigment. The initial stages involved sewing raw canvas, linen, and jute into compositions to look at the base value of traditional materials and to question their neutrality. The work then expanded beyond the studio, and was invested in various unconventional mark-making techniques on fabric, which was then collaged and stitched together. Heslin refers to these experiments as moments that pushed her to critically consider her process – specifically dyeing and sewing – as linked to domestic labour, feminism, and craft, yet also still in relation to painting.

Within Heslin’s process, cotton and linen are hand-dyed in small batches and hung to dry, which develops residual surface textures. The stained fabric is then cut and pieced together – similar to quilt-making construction. Colour is in constant dialogue; the pure simplicity of isolated colour is central to every painting. Heslin uses both synthetic and natural dyes to build tones, value, and hue through mixing pigments and multiple dips into the dye pot. Grey, often considered passive, becomes a vital, active element. Produced using dyes and/or diluted Indian ink, these hues of grey allow the artist to isolate and enhance colour, and also to build black and white compositions.

These paintings do not immediately reveal how they are made or what they are about, yet each advocates for close and sustained reading. The work seeks the space of open interpretation, positioned between the unfamiliar and the familiar. Consider the choice of materials, whether pigment takes hold or resists, how edges meet and are defined by the stitched line that binds them, or how many interpretations of the abstract can be imagined. Chromatic expanses and complex shapes play off each other to create paintings that are narratively ambiguous, yet intensely evocative and poignant.

The artist would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts and the City of Vancouver for supporting the development of this work.


Naomi Potter | Exhibition Curator

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