Our latest Artist You Need To Know, upon being awarded the Governor General’s Award in 2013 was described in the following manner, by Canadian Art Magazine: “Since the early 1970s, Colette Whiten’s sculpture and installation work has developed fresh and timely ways of exploring the connection between the body, the feminine, and its representation in art and mass media. Her work has included full-body casts; a public sculpture for the Calgary Olympics in which life-sized figures hold up a bronze archway; and embroidered and beaded works that reproduce newspaper headlines as well as portraits. In 2007, she was one of only three Canadians to be included in the internationally recognized exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution.”
Colette Whiten is a Canadian sculptor whose works, though straddling very different approaches, have always had an innate physicality, whether through the sheer presence of her pieces, or the implications of the labour involved in their creation. Her artwork, to cite Susan Hobbs Gallery, “explores power and political relationships through both content and medium.”
Beginning in the 1970s, Whiten created a number of pieces that blur the lines between installation, performance and sculpture. Sometimes the sculptures themselves have been exhibited, but the detritus and structures of her labour intensive practice have also been shown, offering an engaging commentary on her work, and that a work of art is work.
She is also known for several public art projects, including La Scala (in collaboration with Paul Kipps) and People Sculpture: the former is in downtown Toronto, whereas the latter resides in Sudbury, Ontario.
Whiten shifted her practice in the 1980’s, as she began to employ cross stich embroidery that appropriated and isolated portraits of political leaders taken from mass media, especially print and newspapers. This later evolved into a series in which she focused on “the representation of anonymous women in the media, women seen mourning their dead, waiting to vote, protesting in the street and bearing arms against oppressors.” Some of these works have been delicate and small, but Whiten has also frequently returned to her monumental aesthetic, as seen in her bead- curtain sculptures where the figures are approximately life sized. This enhances the intent of the original, sourced images, often changing our interpretation and Whiten offers us an alternate opportunity to consider what we may have dismissed, or ignored, previously.
Her exhibition Colette Whiten: Seducing the Receiver (which travelled to numerous venues across in both Canada, and to Spain) included a number of these works, where she challenges us to “consider how media shapes an individual’s understanding of current events.”
Colette Whiten taught at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (formerly OCA) for nearly four decades, earning many teaching awards. She also taught at York University for several years. Past notable exhibitions include Agnes Etherington Art Centre, National Gallery (Ottawa), The Power Plant and the aforementioned Wack!: Art and the Feminist Revolution at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007). A more extensive list of her past exhibitions can be seen here.
Originally from Birmingham, England, the artist divides her time between Haliburton and Toronto, ON. More of her works can be seen here, at the Susan Hobbs Gallery, and a very extensive archive of her nearly half century of artworks can be enjoyed here, as well.