Walking into a Jeanie Riddle installation environment is like shrinking to Lilliputian size and running wild inside a kid’s box of Crayolas. Not only because her works bring to mind the crayons’ array of heart-warming rainbow hues, but also because they evoke more mundane characteristics: the simple, blank solidity of the cardboard box; the tactile waxiness of the surfaces; and the messiness of the kit, lovingly used until the crayons are stubs and the cherry-red is invariably lost under the couch.
In Tenor (2012), Riddle’s installation at Galerie McClure, the box was filled with pastel colours—a first for the usual queen of all things high-octane. Dominated by large, square baby-blue canvases and a powder-pink wall structure built out of plywood and gypsum, the space was so light and minimal that it took a moment, upon entry into the gallery, to ensure it was an exhibition. The plywood holding the pink wall up, perceptible from the side, and two sculptures in the shape of tables (one piled high with many grey cubes and five smaller pink ones, the other with three small blocks wrapped in faux-bois adhesive paper) made it feel as if the gallery might be renovating. The temporary wall is a device Riddle has used before—seven years ago in the installation Transitory Woman Indeed! (Moving to Madagascar) (2005), namely—but the general pallor of the Tenor environment somehow enhanced the raw, unfinished feel.
It’s funny how airiness invites projection, reflection—an opening for one’s own thoughts and extrapolations. Riddle’s work always establishes a clear (though idiosyncratic) direction, having to do with architecture, home, sensuality, celebration and order, but it usually does it forcefully, with bright, incontrovertible pigments that arrest attention and state an agenda. This exhibition was like a latte—so creamy and smooth, one didn’t expect the kick. But the textural dance of this quiet construction became practically meditative.
The blue canvases, all six feet square, are murky monochromes whose pure blue reveals itself, when one is near, to embody impastoed sections that blend in greens and pinks. All are etched with a rough pencil drawing of either lines or a geometric structure, adding both formal depth and a representational dimension to the works. In contrast with the baby’s-butt smoothness of the pink wall and pastel cubes, the paintings’ gesturality became addictive. Then, I saw it: in the corner of the room, a little pile of multicoloured paint skins, layered in shiny rainbow strata. Riddle’s marque de commerce, that small sculptural element embodied a carnivalesque love of the visceral—whether it be quiet and pared down, or loud. That, I think, is the artist’s tenor.
This is a review from the Winter 2013 issue of Canadian Art. To read more from this issue, please visit its table of contents.