Gallery View and Essay "Stories to Myself"
Essay by Lightsey Darst

Gallery View

Of Demons and Angels Essay & Gallery View

This is a page of Gallery Views, from the
Burlington Art Centre, presenting
"Stories to Myself."

I would like to thank the OAC for their
generous support with "Stories to Myself"

The Ontario Arts Council is an agency
of the Government of Ontario

The Ontario Arts Council logo

Corinne Duchesne’s scenes open before us with stark drama: a female body growing from a tree as a crow pecks at her praying hands; a bowl burning in a skeletal cherry tree, the fire taking human form.

On slick mylar sheets Duchesne’s hectic, sketching lines are spider-thin traceries, her shapes elegant even when frenzied. But their large scale keeps these works from being decorative. Instead they reach into our space, even seeming to cast themselves onto us as stained glass does. And where canvas can feel heavy and gradual, mylar has a knife-like immediacy: the image happens when we see it, all at once.

In each painting Duchesne arranges characters, mysteriously entwined in threes and echoing across the paintings: bowl, crow, female body, horse, tree, cat, dog. These are the totems of a personal mythology that we look in on as we might an idol from a vanished culture. Yet Duchesne’s realistic rendering makes these images unstable as symbols: she paints not an archetypal cat, but a particular orange tabby in a dead fall. Each image shifts, too, as we view it: is the dog attacking or defending? Hurt is common across her totems, but their vulnerability is mixed with a threat, for we are in their space, their forest. Though each separate image is richly suggestive, no narrative can be gleaned from the whole. Instead we remain caught in their uncertain but densely emotional instant, without resolution, just as we are caught in the flux of our own lives.

Duchesne offers relief from the headlamp glare of her tableaux with her visible process. Though the arm of the tree stretches towards us with sudden force, the tree’s scrawled and scribbled limbs and trunk offer proof of the hours Duchesne spent here. Her layering of media and mylar sheets is a constant revisiting and reimagining, a sort of secular prayer, and it gives us a point of entry and reentry, a human warmth to hold while viewing these fierce scenes.