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INTERVIEW: Jeanie Riddle gives colour to gender, memory, space and trauma

Montreal-based artist Jeanie Riddle is known for creating minimalist abstract art through painting, sculptural installations, found objects, and collage. Her work explores the subject of space – how people experience it, and the individualistic meaning it holds. Space is very often explored in her work through a robust and sensitive knowledge of colour. Riddle uses colour to carve through traditionally accepted perceptions, creating new meaning in both dimension and narrative. Her colour choices sublimate meaning related to traditional social constructs, physical space, and recalled space into new personal experiences. In a sense, Riddle creates new realities with colour – and here, she explains how.

Cover image: Jeanie Riddle, "There Are Many Things That Are Blue", 2017

Colour and materiality

Jeanie Riddle "The Decisive Years Pink Corner (spill)", 2014

"I reclaim materials from hardware and thrift stores as well as church basements and sidewalks," Riddle says, as she begins to describe how at times she uses colour as a device used to manipulate traditional understanding of texture. "What is interesting is that, in my ‘spills’ work, the composition of the pours and volumes are made possible by the error, regret or change of mind of somebody else. These ‘mistake' colours are also found objects especially when their actual use has been transformed into an object of pure chroma".

I am fascinated at turning

material into something

completely different

This transformative idea is especially apparent in her work entitled The Decisive Years Pink Corner (spill). Colour here takes on a tactile function – the layers of folded material are perceivably made from a rubbery substance, a bubblegum texture, a malleable form, denying the reality of their materiality. Colour, in this instance, has created a new textural reality. "Like cooking, I am fascinated at turning material into something completely different," Riddle explains. "I like, too, to remember that these solid volumes are what we live in. We forget how much plastic makes up our reality".

Colour and gender

Jeanie Riddle "The Decisive Years Pink Corner (spill)", 2014

Riddle also uses colour to borrow textures from the past – recalling moments in history which can be re-introduced into present-day narratives through chromatic triggers. "[The] found objects [I work with] are deliberately selected for their aesthetic quality and not specifically for their colour. In the case of There Are Many Things That Are Blue (and as a matter of fact, all of my current object making) I am referring to a current past based loosely around the year 1979 and into the 80s. It certainly astonishes me that we continue to gender colour. The vibrancy of my palette is borrowed from 60s era posters as well as a nod to the Women’s march(es)".

Colour and memory

Jeanie Riddle 'Tenor (installation view_SITE_SPW)', 2012

Our cultural memories

and our own domestic lives

influence our experience

of being alone with colour

So can colour transpose space into memory and vice versa? And can an exhibition become an experience of something lived through the commonality of colour? "Ultimately, this is my hope!" says Riddle. "I think the experience of participating in an exhibition is remembering that we bring our bodies into space. We become moving gestures along sight lines of colour, form and architecture".

In Tenor, Riddle’s installation from 2012 at the Galerie McClure, plywood and gypsum walls are erected and painted in pastel colours. Their presence, although large in scale, is tonally unobtrusive; inviting viewers to project their own experiences into the constructed space.

"I think that we experience chroma in different ways," Riddle explains; "our cultural memories, as well as our own domestic lives, can influence our experience of being alone with colour. For me, colour is a trigger, I remember experience in the volume of space created by an application of paint. I think bodies look lovely in pink by the way".

Colour and trauma

Jeanie Riddle 'Handful of Pictures', 2017

I think that we experience

chroma in different ways [...]

For me, colour is a trigger

In keeping with the notion of personal chromatic experience, Riddle's art is self-proclaimedly intimate and honest. She describes her work as a reconciliation of personal experience and trauma. "I try to be as transparent as possible in my life and in my art making for the sake of my politics and being a conscious and caring human," she says. "I often start with actual words to form compositions. In this way, I am ‘writing’ an autobiography and sharing where I am right now".

"It is not easy to make art. It can be extremely isolating and confusing but it can also be a place of conviction and a place that recalls through colour, material and action".

For Riddle, colour seems to have an important remedial function. When describing her artistry she poetically declares – "I see you in blue, I feel you in red, I miss you in yellow". Again, colour mingles between reality, perception and memory; becoming a tool that links them all in a vibrant new space. "That specific quote addresses the death of my husband, the death of my mother, the death of my father, the life of my daughter," Riddle clarifies, "it addresses the music I listen to, the spaces of comfort and safety, and above all the joy of making and the emotion of sharing".


To see and read more about Jeanie Riddle's work, you can visit her official website here.


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