Our next Artist You Need To Know is Carolyn Wren.
Wren’s works are very labour intensive and monumental. Often they become an installation that fills an entire room. Her aesthetic is influenced by literature, specifically writers such as Virginia Woolf or more historical tomes of literature, such as Homer or the bible. An educator as well as an artist (Wren was Head of the Visual Arts at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in St. Catharines, Ontario for the impressive span of 1986 to 2015), her works often are the result of many hands collaborating to create a singular vision.
A native of St. Catharines, ON, Wren studied at Brock University (BA, 1981) and the University of Western Ontario (BA Education, 1983) with a focus upon Visual Arts and English, which is evident in her practice. For more than two decades, Carolyn Wren “has explored the relationship between identity and place. Known for her large-scale drawings and relief prints that poetically conflate landscapes and the human body, during the last decade she has turned her attention to the written narratives that have shaped her worldview. By transcribing texts such as Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Virginia Woolf’s iconic feminist essay A Room of One’s Own, Wren manifests personal and cultural terrain in monumental physical forms. The structure and labour of Wren’s method is the thread that binds her work; be it hand carving, printing, writing, or embroidering, Wren finds meditation in the repetitive tasks of life.” (from here)
In responding to Wren’s retrospective exhibition at Rodman Hall, a critic stated that “Task at Hand could be seen as one large installation, that acts as a biography in art for Carolyn Wren: where you chose to stand and ‘read’ or interpret can shift with repeated visits, and depending what you prioritized, like shuffling chapters in a diary. As with War Bride Trilogy, I find myself thinking of Atwood’s The Pelenopiad, with its dark humour and blithe assertions of how sometimes the texts are not what truly happened, and in writing is truth and travail: “Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s time for me to do a little story-making. I owe it to myself.”” (from here)
Wren has mounted major exhibitions of her work in numerous venues. These include Interlace at Agnes Jamieson Gallery (2020), Line and Verse at the University of Toronto Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library / The Cultural Meeting Place, Chiayi, Taiwan (2019), the retrospective exhibition Task at Hand at Rodman Hall Arts Centre, St. Catharines, Ontario (2018), Dwell at Open Studio (2017), A Terrible Joy at Gallery Cram (2012), Searching for the Sublime at the Art Gallery of Kelowna (2011), The Lion and the Lamb at Universal Gallery Santiago de Cuba, Cuba (2011), Palimpsest at Engramme (2009) and the Beinnale internationale du lin de Portneuf (group) curated by Pascale Beaudet (2009).
She has also curated several projects. These include The Alice Project and Women and Medicine: A Feminist Critique.
A more detailed listing of her exhibitions and accomplishments can be seen here.
In writing about Wren’s work Dwell when it was installed at Open Studio in Toronto, Milijana Mladjan offered the following about Wren’s aesthetic: “Yet, there is a quiet strength to the grace and grandeur of the work. This self-representation does not accost the viewer with loud inflammatory colours, livid slogans or shapes, but rather unpretentiously coaxes, invites you to look and think and linger and look again, to dwell a little longer than you expected. It exerts an extraordinary mute power that builds momentum. It reveals itself bit by bit, much like an onion or the manifold layers of identity itself, if one takes the time to further explore it. It is a dramatic unfolding, like the undulating Niagara landscape with its famous principal protagonist, the mighty Niagara Falls, whose thundering presence is also too deafening to ignore, at closer range.” The full essay can be read here.
Many of the images we’ve shared in this post have greater nuance and depth when accompanied by Wren’s words: more information about Ghosts of Emily, Searching For The Sublime, A Room of One’s Own, Passages, The War Map Dress Trilogy and Territories can be found in the previous links.
Much more of her artwork and the many other series she’s produced over her impressive career can be enjoyed here.