I love art that makes me hate myself.
Art that, in the hunt and hysteria of discovering something new, magnetises the lustful viewer and numbs him to the artist’s hidden message imbued within. If you aren’t already numbed by the pretentiousness of that introduction, let me explain what I mean. Art works when art makes you fall in love with it for the wrong reasons. Not because its subject matter is evil, but because you – the mortal civilian – you fell for the trick of appearance. In an age saturated by image, the enchanting magic of what we see all too often leads us astray from the harsh reality of what is.
Whilst absent-mindedly wading through Juxtapoz in an attempt to track down my next artist for review, Montreal-based painter Sandra Chevrier caught my attention like she’d physically climbed through my MacBook monitor, wrenched out my eyeballs and escaped back into the vortex of the internet forever. If you’re aware of my own work which has veered more recently into the realm of mixed media collaged faces, you might understand why. Consumed in the moment by the enduring beauty of Chevrier’s work I was anaesthetised to what the work was actually trying to say. I was reminded of my own ability to fall for the trick of superficial illusions to which we all fall victim in today’s society. It was only after closer inspection, having thoroughly unpicked the meaning of Chevrier’s paintings, that I realised I had reacted purely at the sight of an artist whose work I thought might be deemed ‘cool’ – shoot me.
Now, I stick by that – Chevrier’s work is fucking cool. But her work is so aesthetically striking that it’s difficult to drag yourself away from the lure of the outer and get you hands dirty with the grit of the inner. Reminiscent of the arresting superhero aesthetic employed in previously covered artist, Lora Zombie, this is what makes this great art: Chevrier’s work demands to be dissected.
Chevrier’s collaged portraits are torn, quite literally, between the superimposed cuttings of fantastical comic book humour and the harsh, underlying tragedy of oppressed female identity. Chevrier imagines her female figures inside society’s incarcerating “Cages” of expectation that forces them to live up to a superheroic image. The comic-book collage, at once bold and alluring echo rather entertaining pop-art references, yet upon closer scrutiny we realise the bitter irony that these plastered female faces are silenced, blinded and smothered by the very images that seduce us into their existence.
It’s a brilliant, deceptively simple device that speaks to our cyber-induced, brainwashed inability to view women through nothing but pornographic eyes; an agonising, paradoxical truth that both denies and validates female identity. There’s a sense of torturous struggle as the images encroach on the figure's ability to see. If the women aren’t blinded entirely by Chevrier's collage, their jailed stares are vacant – weak – defeatist; a quiet and tragic resigned acceptance perhaps, that their gendered identity goes no deeper than the image of society’s superficial, fetishized mask strapped to their faces.
The collage, which often features epic and dramatic battle scenes taken from real comic book magazines, is applied rather haphazardly, yet this somewhat incongruous style of application, with fictional characters that reaches an almost theatrical level, only enhances the message of the chaotic and farcical pressures placed upon women to perform superheroic deeds in society. It's a very astute angle from Chevrier, because in a cultureless society bent on teaching our young to aspire to the lie of celebrity, the artist perfectly satirises the ludicrousness of unrealistic expectations and unattainable dreams.
Catch Chevrier's work at her next show at Phone Booth Gallery in Long Beach, CA, USA in August.