Painting is a journey and journeys are always more interesting when there are unexpected detours, when the journey itself and not the destination is the goal. Margaret Glew
Margaret Glew’s recent work highlights an element that has long been key to her painting practice. This element is her use of collage and with her current “detours” she embraces its possibilities beyond paintings on canvas or wood panel to create, quilted textiles, sculpture and, in particular, assemblage . By exploring new formulations of collage in her work using both two and three dimensions, she develops and recontextualizes her exploration of painting as a meaningful and imaginative way of thinking through abstract language.
Before exploring Margaret Glew’s particular use of collage in paintings and even through her « detours », it is perhaps useful to acknowledge that in myriad ways collage has played a seminal role in art. since 1912, when, in what was to become known as Synthetic Cubism, Picasso and Braque created the first Glued Paper. In collage found objects, literal elements such as wallpapers, newsprint and sheet music in these works, Picasso and Braque meant that art and real life could be intertwined beyond illusionist representation.
It is difficult to overestimate the historical significance of their « invention » of collage. He sowed a revolution, a trajectory of influence which, intertwining with the legacy of Dada and Duchampian ideas of the « readymade », saw painting finally burst beyond its previous parameters, its literal and metaphorical frame. , giving rise to our current post-medium condition. . Under this idea of the post-medium condition, serious art genres can range from assemblage to installation, conceptual art and performance, all working alongside painting, drawing and sculpture.
Indeed, to be a serious painter in the 21st century is to operate in a climate of plurality – within the genre itself – where there is no dominant fashion, movement, approach or style. , no commonly accepted ideological, political or ontological agreement, understanding. Our perception of the contemporary world itself can seem metaphorically collagistic. In the postmodern sense of a world without an overarching metanarrative, the human subject can seem lost in a tumult of competing images, interests, and ideologies, with culture often appearing rudderless, transient, and meaningless. For many contemporary artists, the cacophony of our contemporary world brings to the fore the need for a renewed sense of authenticity and autonomy in art. Insensitive to the post-structuralist theory that had been fashionable until then, painting is again for many the well and the means of recovering this significant subjectivity, this janus-like exploration of expression through understanding and comprehension through expression.
Fully aware of our contemporary moment, Margaret Glew creates works of consummate power and even beauty – yes beauty, that Walter Pater point of reference but, here in her work, perhaps more aptly expressed as a contemporary configuration that recognizes complexity and contradiction. Living as the artist does, in downtown Toronto near the lake, there are enduring allusions to the urban fabric, topography, nature, climate change and ever-changing weather patterns. However, these allusions are never specific, never represented: they are rather taken up and shaped by an alchemy of the imaginative and expressive process of the artist, the arrangement, the placement, the orchestration, the composition and the creation of the abstract formal elements. Its forms, lines, compositional, textural and color relationships – both painted and glued – create symphonic layered abstract languages that resonate on the canvas.
As an abstract painter, Margaret Glew euses overt or pre-determined imagery in its use of collage (other than abstract patterns in the case of quilts). His basic collage materials in paintings include a deliberately restrained palette largely of paper and cardboard (both ribbed and smooth). These materials are of course everyday products of our contemporary society – packaging elements, commercial papers – but they are selected without significant images or marks, nor any intrinsic commercial graphic motif. Whether used as a found surface or pre-treated with paint, drawing or any other mark, they are incorporated into every painting.
His work has a masterful quality that was a hallmark of much New York School Abstract Expressionism. We are very far from the essentialist abstract formalism centered on the specificity of the medium advocated by the American critic Clement Greenberg in the 1960s. Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell, to their expansive modes of creation that embraced the outside world. Robert Motherwell was an early North American advocate of collage: influenced by Picasso and Dada collagists such as Hans Arp and Sophie Tauber Arp with their use of chance and arbitrary placement, his mature paintings retained an aura of collage in their handling.
In Margaret Glew’s paintings, similarly, there is a sense of collage in the handling of the paint – even in areas or paintings where collage is not a feature. These elements exist as themselves – the brush strokes, the glued paper, the spray-painted strokes, the glued lines formed by the torn paper, the cardboard – and at the same time they participate in a push – pull, of an occultant, of a revealer, of a relational ambiguity. , between the embodied physical texture, the figure, the ground and the suggestive tip of the imagery. It is in this delightfully balanced instability, this quicksand of recognition and relationship that embodies, a liveliness of surface, process and subject, giving an indefinable power to the work. I remember the Area, the landscape of Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinematic masterpiece, Stalker.
Guided by the eponymous stalkertwo protagonists navigate the mysterious Area, in search of a mysterious room where they believe all of their questions about life will be answered and understood, The Landscape is ever-changing – in a sense, it’s « alive ». To navigate safely, the stalker, periodically throws a weighted canvas bag to indicate a safe path to follow. The fluid, shifting relationships between figure and ground in Margaret Glew’s paintings embody a comparable yet exquisite complexity, ostensibly in search of an indefinable sublime purpose, in which, as she states in her « detours » quote above : the journey itself and not the destination is the goal.
For Margaret Glew, this journey – the painting itself, the imagination, the discovery – can speak in many registers. As in the paintings, the collage of his assemblage works and quilted textiles avoids semiotic reference. Collage of wallpaper, sheet music, newsprint and labels by Picasso and Braque in their 1912 Glued paper the works depended on semiotic recognition in the pasted elements. They then used irony and paradox, playing with literalism and illusion to question reality. Conversely, Margaret Glew’s collage uses interactions of form, treatment, context and process to convey meaning.
In assembly work, cardboard as a material plays the role of support and surface. Smooth and ribbed, untreated, laminated, painted (both flat and expressive), cardboard is cut, shaped and orchestrated with an often superimposed structure. Activated by the process and freed from the confinement of the stretched canvas, the cardboard elements articulate an edge that is an organic consequence of their internal compositional logic. In every assembly job, the cut and shape – cardboard making is at the forefront and the painted and drawn mark – making is often, by definition, edited by this cutting. In terms of allusion, this translates into a more specifically architectonic feel. Nevertheless, whether by brush, spray paint or drawing, mark-making asserts itself in these works as an often exquisite counterpoint to shaped cardboard.
Form and its infinite formations are a key element in all of Margaret Glew’s work. The nature of quilt making – the sewing together of separate pieces – requires a slower, less spontaneous process and this condition of the backing tends to emphasize the form.
In her quilts, while allowing the structural need for fabric support to determine a rectilinear outer form, she creates compelling contrapuntal interactions between this orthogonal setting and curved or organic shapes and lines. Then, as part of this strategy, she takes great joy in the complexity of the composition, playing the abstract patterns, striped fabrics and against each other. The stripes and abstract pattern of these fabrics function to some extent as an equivalent of painted or drawn marks and here Glew takes it a step further and has begun to combine meaningful paint and bonded fabric processes. The extension of all of these areas of practice to free-standing sculptures in cardboard and paint constitutes, at the time of this writing, a tiny part of his oeuvre. Nevertheless, as Picasso’s crude Cubist cardboard reliefs of 1912 demonstrated, exploratory sculptures can play an important and seminal role in the development of an artist’s future painting practice.
Margaret Glew’s practice operates at the highest level of ambition for painting as a serious art form. I use here, a determination of Painting, which encompasses its practice and its discourse through the range and diversity of its multiple histories, and the widening of its parameters in the 20th century. The dialectic between what we might describe as the internal characteristics of the painting and the reference or inclusion of the outside world remains essential. Mediated by the artist’s subjective vision, these two characteristics, for Margaret Glew, are sublimated in a practice that demonstrates the power of expressive and imaginative thought. In And through Paint. It is an art of immense realizations and possibilities.
Geoffrey Nawn October 2021
© Copyright: Photographs, Margaret Glew. All rights reserved.
© Copyright: Editorial Geoffrey Nawn. All rights reserved.