Critical Distance

Seasons Seasons: Julie Atkinson
12 April – 30 April, 1994

a response to the exhibition by Cecile Clayton-Gouthro

Playfully punning and poking good naturedly at various representations of the female figure, Julie Atkinson presents us with a series of torsos constructed out of fibre and treasured objects. In her Torso Shield series, the artist has taken materials having personal significance, her grandmother’s buttons, remnants of a friends dress, coveted family fabrics, and combined them to create portraits. In place of paint or pencil – threads, beads and buttons become words to describe the person in the portrait. They beg to be read.

Lucy Locket has received the most aggressive textural treatment. The fabric has been significantly altered by the artist – slashed, layered and frayed – yet, oddly, it is the most “centred” of the torsos, revealing an energetic, strong willed and self confident individual. The obvious reference to elaborate historical dress in the portraits is a deliberate allusion to human vanity and disguise in self-representation.

Utilizing materials traditionally associated with women’s work, Julie Atkinson approaches her work from a determinedly feminine perspective. In the paired torso panels Sunflower, Cornflower, Rose and Lily, threads are built up to highlight the female anatomy. These “drawings” reveal the influence of two very different artists: Jim Dine’s line drawings and British artist Alice Kettle’s technique of thread embroidery. The results are at once sympathetic and satirical. Atkinson’s torso’s are divided by lines at key structural points used in garment construction – chest, waistline, centrefold and hip line. The lines provide a structural basis for the figures at the same time as they divide and separate them into sections that lead away from the whole. Atkinson instructs us to look beyond the surface of the put-together portrait and uncover the different qualities that contribute to the whole person.

The most enigmatic piece in Season is Winter in the Room of Pearls. This space is a re-creation of an earlier experience in the subterranean world of Paris. The work is private and mysterious. Here the artist acknowledges the human need to adorn private spaces with personal iconography.

In Julie Atkinson’s own iconography, symbols are re-stated, often with tongue-in-cheek and like the revitalized remnants she uses to depict her portraits, that creative process projects beyond this exhibition.

Cecile Clayton-Gouthro is a fibre artist and Professor of Human Ecology at the University of Manitoba.