Catherine Toews

Ingenue and Two Studies, 2011 & 2012

This billboard combines three works by Kingston-based artist, Catherine Toews – two Studies, and one piece from her series of Ingénues. Expanding Toews’ unconventional portraiture to this size spectacularizes and (literally) ‘blows up’ her emerging practice. Presenting these drawings in what is typically a commercial format may provoke viewers to consider common notions of beauty as they are most often deployed by advertising and other media. After all, Toews’ work is primarily sourced from fashion images that she has culled from magazine editorials, style blogs, backstage shots of models at runway presentations, vintage ‘girly’ postcards, and publicity shots of film stars and showgirls. However, Toews’ drawings are never accurate depictions of their original sources. Rather, they are distorted, exaggerated, coloured, even made grotesque by the cunning and whimsical hand of the artist. At this scale, and in this off-beat location, the figures in these drawings might even appear to be performing – tying them to the way that fashion and adornment are really part of a larger cultural performance of gender, wealth, and class in the service of representation.

The Ingénue figures in the centre of the billboard are posed in half-dress, recalling the art-historical tradition of the ‘nude’. Indeed, this slightly naughty image has a retro, or historic quality about it – in line with romanticized memories of Ziegfeld Follies, 19th century showgirls, or even Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Are these women having a good time? Does their nudity make them vulnerable? Or are they simply “getting the job done”? The two Studies at the left and right portions of the billboard seem more realistic, even recognizable, in comparison. Their facial features are defined, their make-up and earrings are visible. They appear glamorous and aloof at the same time. But who are they? And what is their relationship to the women at the centre of the billboard? Is there a story being told here?

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