Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Painter uses piles of laundry to create fantastical landscapes

Reflect often-ignored realms of female experience

  • Print

Bev Pike's paintings explore interior settings. Her subjects, heaps and stacks of clothing and fabric, belong to a domestic sphere of knitting, sewing and laundry. She arranges these textiles to fashion other interiors, cable-knit anatomical structures, caves and crypts, sweeping landscapes and hemmed in on all sides by roiling clouds of flannel.

More than anything, though, Pike is concerned with the inner lives of women and the inward experiences that many women share. Using a deceptively simple approach that she's refined for more than a decade, Pike articulates the embodied experiences of female biology, sexuality and identity, as well as the experience of living in a culture that still routinely misunderstands, misrepresents and seeks to curtail women's agency and self-expression.

Hymenal Views, currently at the University of Manitoba's School of Art Gallery, features six paintings made between 2003 and 2011, enthralling, mural-size watercolours on paper, 2.4 metres tall and six metres across. Though her format, material and subject matter remain constant, she twists, knots, and piles her textiles of varying colour and texture to evoke a surprising diversity of scenery and associations.

In Hymenal View of the Deluge, the arrangement is straightforward: uneven rows of bundled cloth emerge from a shadowy background, suggesting a submarine's view of the ocean floor or an endoscope's view of some polyp-ridden organ. In Hymenal View of Alchemy, we seem to look out through the jagged cave entrance onto a rumpled lava field studded with orange flames, while View of Chill might be an arctic landscape or an underwater chasm of ice. The newest work, Bizzarria View -- Margate, is the only one to explicitly reference human-made architecture, recreating a mysterious, seashell-lined subterranean passage (Shell Grotto in Margate, Kent, discovered in 1835 but never conclusively dated) in ornately textured knitwear.

It's easy to interpret the paintings' hollows and caverns as "womblike," while pink gels placed over some of the overhead lights suffuse the gallery with a warm glow, reinforcing a "bodily" interpretation. Pike's titles explicitly compare the fabric she paints to membranes of the female reproductive system. Reference to the hymen in particular, given its stubborn (and mostly spurious) association with virginity, raises issues of women's social standing and bodily autonomy while alluding to the historically male-dominated medical establishment's own, often bizarre views of female sexuality (look up the origins of the word "hysteria" sometime). A "hymenal view," a view from inside, directly challenges conventional ideas of women as objects of display, scrutiny, and mistrust, subject to an external, male gaze.

In focusing on fabric, Pike, an ardent feminist and self-described spinster, directly references the idea of "women's work," an idea that she both champions and challenges. As paintings, her images, with their expansive format and lively, virtuosic brushwork, recall Group of Seven landscapes as readily they do Jackson Pollock's turbulent abstract expressionist canvases -- both painterly precedents with overwhelmingly "macho" connotations that Pike defiantly upends.

While none of its imagery is "suggestive" or "explicit" in any prurient sense, Hymenal Views' uncompromising politics and unapologetic exploration of gendered experience (and anatomy) might raise objections or doubts for some viewers.

Pike, for her part, seems content to demolish these with the sheer force of her unassailable talent and the overwhelming visual and physical presence of the paintings themselves.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 C17

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Vendors say ugly Christmas sweaters create brisk business

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(  Standup photo)-    A butterfly looks for nector on a lily Tuesday afternoon in Wolseley-JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- June 22, 2010
  • Geese take cover in long grass in the Tuxedo Business Park near Route 90 Wednesday- Day 28– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

Poll

Do you think it's a good idea for Theresa Oswald to enter NDP leadership race?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google