An Interview with Luanne Martineau
© Luanne Martineau, 2016
Luanne Martineau is best known for her felted wool sculptures that pack a punch. Born in Saskatoon, and now living, working and teaching in Montreal, she uses traditional craft techniques and materials to produce art that is in equal parts gory, glorious, intricate – and always politically engaged.
Her work is in the permanent collections of a number of galleries, including the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada, which recently acquired two pieces. Take a Knee (2014) and PEACH / CHEAP (2015) are collages of printed and coloured papers that explore issues of labour, making and gender politics in art.
Before completing her MFA at the University of British Columbia, Martineau studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Alberta College of Art and Design. She is the winner of the 2007 Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award for the Visual Arts and was runner-up for the Sobey Art Award in 2007.
Martineau will be an artist-in-residence at Kinngait Studios in Cape Dorset in April 2016. The TD North/South Artist Exchange, in collaboration with the Canadian Art Foundation, invites artists from southern Canada to live and work in the Arctic for a three-week period, while artists from Canada’s Arctic travel to the south for a similar residency.
Martineau recently spoke with NGC Magazine about the art and politics of “making.”
NGC Magazine: How would you describe your exploration of collage using printed and coloured papers?
Luanne Martineau: I’ve been working with assemblage for quite a while. When I was working with another type of collage method, I was taking paper and darking it out with graphite so that it was solidly filled. Then I would cut it and stitch it in formations. I saw it as a form of collage, but it also has to do with quilting because the individual units were all triangles and because I’m interested in ideas of craft. I would make these anthropomorphized abstractions – and this is a continuation of that.
NGCM: What took you in that direction?
LM: A few things. One, I hurt myself, so I had to work differently because of a bad case of carpel tunnel. I also became interested in issues of labour but I wanted to diversify the conversation to be about how we make and how materials function. There is a natural amount of labour required in felting because getting thick forms is a labour intensive process … collage doesn’t actually reward time that way. Collage is about recognizing things like keeping your eye and brain moving, and sifting through images, forms, colours and textures. You are rewarded by recognizing relationships.
Luanne Martineau, Take a Knee (2014), collage of printed and coloured papers with traces of graphite and adhesive on mat board, 116 x 125.5 cm. NGC
NGCM: Why are you interested in issues of labour?
LM: We’re at a really weird point in terms of our economy and our outsourcing and the relationship we have to ideas of labour; what it takes to make something. There’s an economy to that in terms of which type of labour gets paid for and which type of labour doesn’t get paid for. Artistic and women’s labour have had a notorious problem of not being paid for – and for women, not being paid for equally.
NGCM: There have been lots of words used to describe your work: drawer, painter, sculptor, “drulptor.” Which do you identify with?
LM: Drulptor was a word I generated because it was part of a repeating conversation, so I decided to make up a word for what I do. I wasn’t really interested in the conversation about is it drawing or is it sculpture. It really doesn’t matter. So I started calling it drulpture.
NGCM: You’ve been a strong advocate to see craft legitimized as fine art. Is that fight ongoing?
LM: I’ve seen a lot of progress through my teaching. The students I’m engaging with now don’t come in with the same kind of hang-ups, so that’s very positive. There are a lot of institutions that are still very traditional in terms of making that divide, and, in fact, are still having problems just curating women or people of colour into their programming.
Luanne Martineau, PEACH / CHEAP (2015), collage of printed and coloured papers on mat board, 127 x 95.8 cm. NGC
NGCM: Why is it still difficult to see craft legitimized as fine art?
LM: For some reason, this mode of making seems to carry more connotations of lesser quality or lesser value. It’s encoded with history and gender. You don’t have to make that kind of defence with painting – and you see a lot of bad painting. Yet painting is deeply craft-based. It’s absolute making, it’s pushing material around, it’s on a textile, it’s mostly not an outsourced medium.
NGCM: Who are your creative influences?
LM: I worked around Willem de Kooning because of his misogynistic use of the female image. I was also really interested in the way he worked with his materials but then there was this sticking point with the types of female representations that he indulged himself in. That is a double-edged influence. Similarly Philip Guston because of his move from abstraction to representation later in life, which was tied to the Vietnam War … Linda Benglis was a really big influence for me; Eva Hess; also Hannah Hoch.
NGCM: Your work is very visceral. Is that a product of the tactile nature of the materials you use?
LM: Yes. You decide how much you’re going to finish things and how much you’re going to show your hand; how effortless you’re going to make something look or if you’re going to reveal the effort. With felt you can always add or you can always rip it apart. So I would make something and sit with it for a couple of years. Down the line, I might decide I’m going to put it into another thing because I could attach it; I could add on to it. It has that flexibility. It’s also a craft-based method. You can re-use anything and it doesn’t have to stop because it has been completed it in one way.
NGCM: Your work gets very strong reactions. Some viewers are repulsed; others can’t get close enough. Is that what you’re aiming for?
LM: I don’t go with that as a goal. It’s kind of the outcome of the material and the subject. It’s interesting that lots of stuff can be accepted when it’s drawn or painted – and it can be quite grotesque. Maybe it’s more easily accepted because it’s an image. However, when you make things into dimensionalized forms, people tend to have a stronger response because it’s a very real, present thing as opposed to a representation of a thing.
Luanne Martineau's collages Take a Knee (2014) and PEACH / CHEAP (2015) are currently on view in the Contemporary Galleries (B109) at the National Gallery of Canada.