"I think being an artist is about following your own way, and having the courage to be who you are and what you are. To have self-knowledge ... that deep, dark discovery of self, part of which is maturing, part of which is creating wholeness."
Joyce Wieland is legendary for her contribution to the development of contemporary visual arts in Canada. A self-described "cultural activist" she is best known for celebrating Canadian national identity and bringing forward feminist issues within the predominantly male art culture of the time. Initially a painter and filmmaker, she also used traditional women's media such as quilts and sewn collages. In her mind, the landscape and ecology of Canada was female. Issues of gender and nationality were interchangeable. Concern with the protection of Canadian confederation and gender issues would repeatedly surface in her quilts, films and assemblages.
Wieland was left in the care of an older brother and sister after the death of both of her parents. She took solace in drawing and creating comic strips. During her high-school years, she was encouraged to enroll in the visual art program. Later, work as a graphic designer and at an animation house provided her with techniques that would be used in future art production. In 1956, Wieland married the artist Michael Snow. Two years later, she had her first solo show and, by 1960, she was represented by Toronto's leading art dealer, Avrom Isaacs, of the Isaacs Gallery.
Wieland immersed herself in the New York art scene, relocating there with Snow in 1962. She turned to the underground filmmaking community. Most of her own films were made during her stay in the city and shown at local festivals.
Many of Wieland's ideas, including nationalism and feminism were formulated in New York during this time away from Canada. Cooling Room II (1964) shows the influence of American pop culture and filmmaking on her work. Alongside a toy airplane and an image of a sinking ship, a heart cut out of red material hangs to dry on a clothesline. A series of coffee cups with lipstick stains mark the passage of time. The predominance of red and white suggest an equation between heartbreak, disaster and the colours of the Canadian flag. Confedspread (1967), playfully composed of numerous sewn squares of colourful plastic and synthetic fillers, is Wieland's first attempt at using the quilt format as a vehicle of expression.
More quilts would follow: Reason Over Passion (1968) echoed the words of Pierre Trudeau. Her retrospective at the National Gallery in 1971 was its first ever for a woman artist. In it, she introduced ideas of artistic collaboration to the public by contracting groups of sewers to help make the quilts.
Joyce Wieland's prolific career lasted over thirty years and established her as an icon of Canadian art history. She is credited with introducing ideas and breaking conventions that contributed significantly to the development of contemporary art in Canada.