Culture  Celebrity skinned

Deconstructing fame through collage at Mile End gallery

It is pouring outside when I arrive at the Celebrity Monster Makeover workshop at articule, a self-declared artist-run centre on Fairmount and Jeanne-Mance. Upon entering, I am enthusiastically greeted by one of articule’s members, who tells me that she didn’t expect anyone to come by on such a terrible day.

Most of the people already in the centre are affiliated with articule, and plan and organize the events held at the gallery. They seemed extremely happy to have someone from outside of their group stop by, and they led me to a table covered with magazines from which I was told to choose a celebrity image to distort. I immediately went for a magazine spread about Scarlett Johansson and chose a couple of images to use as a starting point.

In an age of art collectives and home-grown creativity, articule is a well-established centre for displaying works by up-and-coming artists and encouraging artistic expression in the Montreal community. The members of the art centre put a lot of emphasis on the process of creation, as shown through their dedication to offering workshops and other events that focus on stimulating artistic discussion and creation.

Especially in a neighbourhood as student- and artist-friendly as the Mile End, having a gallery whose mission is to facilitate the creation of art is a great step toward the democratization of art presentation. Articule does not look down upon artists with little experience and holds no elitist view of art as something only attained by so-called “masters.”

The workshop this past Saturday was inspired by the art that is currently on exhibition in articule’s gallery space. Emily Bennett Beck’s “in reverie, in sympathy” is a study of transgressing artistic and mental boundaries in celebrity portraiture. With her grotesque, exaggerated paintings of popular figures such as Hillary Clinton, Beck hopes to push our perception to the point where we see her art as “uncomfortably intense.” The workshop aimed to use the art of photo montage to explore similar themes, by transposing magazine clippings over the original celebrity image in order to distort the image according to the artist’s own view of celebrity.

Back at the workshop, one member presents a slideshow of several different types of photo montage. There was big focus on the art of Terry Gilliam, a member of Monty Python who famously designed all of the collage-based cartoons between segments in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Gilliam uses old photographs, along with illustration, to create biting political satire alongside simple bathroom humour.

The duality of articule as a place for presentation of art as well as for facilitation of art creation is the reason that so many members are enthusiastic about the events going on at the centre. Even on a rainy day like last Saturday, dedicated artists trekked through the rain in order to get involved in this workshop.

Among the participants is one eccentric artist who moved from Vancouver to pursue a career in art, although she explains that she finds other gallery spaces in Montreal as “too elitist” and “stifling” for her art. Another visitor is a high school art teacher from the neighbourhood who attends many articule events in order to get ideas for her own high school class. She comments on the lack of art education in Montreal schools – which I’m sure we can all sympathize with, as students at McGill. What started as an artistic discussion became a conversation about the politics of “getting art out there.” Luckily, initiatives like articule’s Saturday workshop combat artistic elitism by making creativity increasingly accessible to all.