Category Archives: Canada

Karine Labrie

I attended the opening of a new exhibit at La Galerie des Nanas in Danville, Quebec. One of the featured artists was a young woman, Karine Labrie. When I saw her pen and ink drawings, I immediately thought of Madge Gill. The resemblance in their work is remarkable.

Born deaf, Karine is a master of communicating through her hands. She is prolific, creating images from her self-inspired world of fashion – women dressed in extravagant clothing, posed and waiting to be admired. I don’t know much about Karine, but she was at the opening and I met her briefly. Despite being the centre of attention, she seemed to take it all in stride, although she was obviously thrilled to have her work on display.

I saw more of Karine’s work later in Quebec City, at an art organization called Vincent et Moi. (More about this later.) I learned that her work is under review by Collection L’Art Brut in Lausanne, who is likely to add her work to the main collection.

93f9891f91cb4b30546ce9d8e263df35_th3And, in case you have forgotten about British artist, Madge Gill (1882 – 1961)  here is one of her drawings. I am always fascinated to see two artists whose work is so similar. Karine knows nothing about Gill, yet both were compelled to draw intricate images of the classic ‘femme fatale’ in imaginary architectural settings. I have no explanation for this. It is yet another mystery of outsider art.





Anick Langelier

ALangelier003I was introduced to the paintings of Anick Langelier at La Galerie des Nanas  in Danville, Quebec. I did not get to meet Anick in person, but I was able to see part of her extensive collection. Anick is a young artist from Montreal who has been painting since her mid-teens as a way to cope with her schizophrenia. You can see the imagery of some traditional masters in her work, but she has developed her own style and imagery on heavily-painted canvasses. She depicts life as she experiences it: strange universes, God, good and evil, and “dreamy-haunting” worlds of childhood.”

If there is one word I could use to describe Anick, it is PROLIFIC! She has hundreds of paintings in her own home and hundreds more with the gallery. Here are more samples of her work (from La Galerie des Nanas website):

cropped-langelier140   ALangelier008


La Galerie des Nanas and Martine Birobent


Holy smokes! It has been a very long time since I sat down to write a blog. Far too often, life (and academic work) takes over. I left you waiting for news of outsider artists in Quebec and I have a lot to tell you. So let’s get started.

I took a trip from Montreal to the town of Danville, Quebec, to meet up with Jean-Robert Bisaillon at La Galerie des Nanas. His wife, artist Martine Birobent, was in France getting ready for an exhibit, so I didn’t get a chance to meet her. Jean-Robert and Martine are the owners of the gallery and they have an interesting view of outsider art, calling it insubordoneé (insubordinate, defiant, disobedient) and féministe (feminist) art. Its aim is to exhibit art that is contrary to established norms and, in particular, art created by women. Because women artists have been neglected and ignored throughout art history,  the gallery focuses its efforts on promoting their work. With the exception of one male artist (Olivier Blot), the gallery is packed with vibrant artwork of international and Canadian women – paintings, sculptures, drawings, dolls and masks.  That in itself was a novel experience.

A lot of Martine’s work is on exhibit at the gallery, and for those of you who are freaked out by dolls, I suggest you stop reading now.

In addition to large anthropomorphic sculptures, Martine has Sculpture-Zled-Dolls-Trio-Gold-detaillo-150x150a passion for dolls. She knits them into outfits that cover their entire bodies. My first impression was of  women veiled for propriety, but these veils are quite different. Although they bind the dolls tightly, they cannot SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAhide some things: babies pop out of bellies, breasts are far-too-obvious beneath taut clothing, and eyes peer out from web-like masks.


The dolls are quirky but not amusing. They are no longer things to play with. (Or are they?) pinkThese classic children’s toys have been turned into lifeless and trapped objects. They are disturbing and disquieting images:  frozen and mute women who are unable to communicate their own stories of imprisonment.

One of my readers observed Birobent’s subversive use of traditional female items (dolls and knitting) as a way to expose the male, patriarchal,  gaze.  It’s not just a sense of physical confinement that we witness, but one of cultural confinement, too. Well said.

(Images are from La Galerie des Nanas website.)



The Danville Diviner

divinerMy trip to Montreal led me to the town of Danville in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. I went there to visit Gallerie des Nanas, which I only knew from their website and occasional email exchanges with Jean-Robert Bisaillon. (Much more about the gallery in subsequent blogs).

You know how much I love diversions from the path, so I have to tell you about my first half-hour in Danville. Danville is a beautiful, historic town with a population of about 4,000 residents, all of whom seem to know each other. (Much more importantly, they all seem to like each other!)  Anyway, upon my arrival in Danville, I went out to meet Jean-Robert at a cafe and we were soon joined by octogenarian Hertel, the local diviner and story-teller/historian. He was delighted to have a “tourist” in town with whom he could impress with stories of his magical skills.

Hertel described his special ability to find water beneath the ground, just by walking around with a forked branch, which points downward when it reaches an underground water source. Hertel has been a diviner for many, many years and he is never wrong. Not only can he locate a water source, but he can tell you how far down you have to dig. His abilities are so well-developed that he can find water by looking at a map. He described an incident where he pinpointed a source of water for his brother, who lived thousands of miles away, just by looking at a map, and “feeling” where the water was. Now, I tell you, I was damned impressed! If I lived in Danville, I would accompany Hertel on all of his searches just for the heck of it. And I would also ask Hertel to mentor me as a junior diviner.

The funny thing was that talking with Hertel reminded me that when I was a young child, I remember my Italian grandfather walking around some property in the country with a forked branch, looking for water. I don’t remember the outcome of the event, but I do remember just taking it all in stride, as if all “old people” did this on a regular basis.  Of course, looking back on it, I wonder if this is an “old world” craft and skill that has been lost since we moved to cities where it would never occur to us* (*me) to look for water anywhere other than a tap over the sink.

And I wonder if I could find water with a stick? What an exciting prospect. I will practise close to a reservoir to hone my skills before charging money for the performance. Maybe this is my second or third career. Stay posted for further developments.



Luc Guerard and Pierre Racine


I visited Luc Guerard’s studio in Montreal, along with his friend, sculptor Pierre Racine (both pictured at right). I introduced you to Pierre’s work in a previous blog. Although Pierre is not self-taught, his work has an “outsiderish” vibe and as beautiful as I have seen in outsider art collections. I saw an exhibit with his current work. Pierre is now working in wax, which is an usual and intriquing form of work. I had no idea that casting bronze was so ludicrously expensive, so this seems to be a creative solution to the problem. It seems that wax is a durable alternative (as long as you don’t leave it in the sun!) and, indeed, it is fascinating to see.


Here is  photo of one of Pierre’s sculptures. IMG_0020  They are as beautiful in “real life” as they are in photographs.   If you didn’t know it was wax,  you might think it was a kind of transparent stone. Lovely.