“I’m kind of in this very idealistic view that painting is still part discovery,” says Julie Trudel from her artist residency in France. “Painting has a huge technical background, so how can you make something new out of a thing that has a very old tradition? To paint better than Leonardo da Vinci you’ve got to get up very early and work hard, so what can you do next?”
Trudel is one of four emerging artists from Montreal competing in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition (with 15 contenders overall). Founded in 1999, the award recognizes one national winner per year, who receives $25,000 and a large amount of kudos. The two runners-up get $10,000 apiece.
“I think that it’s one of the best awards that we have for painting in Canada,” says Nicolas Ranellucci, another of the nominees. The Montreal artist submitted a series of collage-like paintings that explore the act of painting as a ritual, particularly a hermetic one, as the solitary artist retreats to make his work. Ranellucci treats painting like the occult in the series, and the painter as the creator of illusion, even a magician, as he puts it.
Another of the Montreal-based nominees, Betino Assa, also creates magical scenes, but his interest is in exploring the unknown. The Concordia MFA student uses his draughtsmanship to create elaborate fantastical narrative scenes, painting on the reverse of etched plexiglass, a choice that may be tied to his interest in sculpture.
This combination or crossing over of media is not new to painting. For centuries, and particularly for the last few decades, artists have pushed their works further by incorporating other elements or media. For Corri-Lynn Tetz, the internet is integral to her work. Long a fan of using found images, the artist has found herself drawn to pictures posted online.
“I find it interesting what people put on the internet,” she says. “And what people want others to see and what people see as valuable. I almost feel like I’m giving these images a body.”
In her series Housefire, she created paintings based on photos of a neighbourhood fire. The photos, originally posted on Facebook, have been reborn as small, intimate scenes, whose pixelated edges nod to their digital source, while the striking image speaks to a larger theme that concerns the artist, that of the collapse of the middle class.
“I had been feeling overwhelmed with what was happening around the economy,” Tetz says from her Montreal studio. “And images like that I feel like I use them because they are metaphors for larger things.”
From her current perch in France, Trudel describes how she restricted herself originally to the printer colours of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, she talks about her art as a journey, an exploration and an adventure. Putting aside colour entirely in favour of black and white hues, Trudel beams with enthusiasm about her work, and painting in general.
“The thing that I’m most interested in, it’s a very old idea in painting,” she says. “It comes from the beginning of abstraction that painting is experimental. You’re gonna make discoveries.” ■
The winner of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition will be announced Nov. 29.