Exploring our urges to play with the grotesque

Dominique Rey takes the circus sideshows out of their cages and onto the canvas with Pilgrims

  • Cowgirl, ink on paper – Courtesy Dominique Rey

  • Dog Faced Man, ink on paper – Courtesy Dominique Rey

  • Florian, oil on canvas – Courtesy Dominique Rey

  • General Infinite Love, oil on canvas – Courtesy Dominique Rey

Local artist Dominique Rey’s exhibition Pilgrims is an exploration of the beautiful and the grotesque; it is a collection of portraits that will thrill you and make you cringe.

The works that make up Pilgrims, on display in University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03, depict colourful oil paintings of pretty women, showgirls and dejected clowns with scraggly beards – many of which take on a sad and slightly deformed appearance.

The ink drawings are smoky, and resemble Rorschach inkblots. They depict standard sideshow attractions: the wolfman, the giant, the elastic man and so on.

Rey says inspiration for the show came from the literary works of Angela Carter (author of Nights at the Circus and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman), her work with local performance group the Abzurbs, and archival photographs from turn of the century sideshows and 1950s burlesque.

Under the arch of the stage it becomes accessible to play with the grotesque – even merge the grotesque with the beautiful – because it’s safe, and the audience can be voyeurs and watch it all, Rey says.

“I’m interested specifically in this work, in the notions of the unbeautiful, and how the unbeautiful becomes permissible and even desirable under the guise of performance and public display,” explained Rey, Winnipeg’s Visual Arts Cultural Ambassador for the 2010 Cultural Capital of Canada celebrations.

Under the arch of the stage it becomes accessible to play with the grotesque – even merge the grotesque with the beautiful – because it’s safe, and the audience can be voyeurs and watch it all, Rey says.

“I think with the Abzurbs, it’s about (luring) the audience into that realm also, and (letting) them get lost in this realm of the subconscious, of the uncanny, of the grotesque, and hopefully the paintings have the same effect of moments of connection,” she said.

“We’re just really intrigued by this space where we dismantle the separation of audience and performer, and invent characters as a space of fantasy. It’s also a space of the uncanny where we attract and repel people.”

Pilgrims is on display in Gallery 1C03 until Saturday Oct. 9.

Published in Volume 65, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 23, 2010)

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