Clay sculptor captures Inside Stories at Musée des maîtres
Claudine Ascher feels right at home at the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec, 615 Ste. Croix Ave., St. Laurent.
That’s because her show, on in the choir area of the former church until Feb. 26, offers an unconventional desk and vanity that fit the museum’s mandate to show furniture as part of its handmade Quebec oeuvre.
The difference is that Ascher’s furniture and other smaller sculptures are made of clay and have inherent messages, ergo the show’s title Histoires intérieures/inside stories, which describes the theme of the majority of this artist’s work.
The desk is a two-thirds scale replica of her own at home, complete with her favourite books between bookends, all made of clay, a clay lamp, telephone, and even clay versions of the sketches for the piece itself, rendering it “self-perpetuating. I call it Autobiography,” she says.
The work drew so much attention when it was shown at Stewart Hall in 2014 that Quebec’s lieutenant governor, J. Michel Doyon, came to see it for himself.
The vanity is more like her other magical-surrealist work. The usual accoutrements of a woman’s beauty regimen, including perfume bottles, nail polish and other vials bob like flotsam and jetsam in the textured, choppy waters of the vanity table top while, in the mirror, is the image of a woman’s hand sinking beneath stormy waves.
“It’s called If Narcissus could see me now! She’s drowning in all these products to make herself beautiful and sinking under the weight of all this stuff,” says Ascher.
Furniture is a direct link with her past, Ascher’s father having been a furniture designer and Ascher having started her career as a set designer for the theatre, a vocation that was replaced by art when the anglophone exodus shrank the stage scene here.
Her parents further figure in three connected sculptures following the course of the couple’s 64-year marriage. A small woman climbs about the shoulders and head of her much larger mate, a nod to the ancient classical tradition of making the male bigger and more heroic.
This contrast was purposeful since Ascher then reversed the roles.
“She is the active one and he is passive, because eventually he became incapacitated with dementia. He only outlived her by eight months, because he was lost without her,” she says.
These sculptures and a few of the others are accompanied by the artist’s poetry and texts.
Her childhood fuels mixed media works that incorporate clay likenesses of dolls and childhood dresses and shoes, accompanied by her drawings of objects that are locally unusual like a Japanese face carving from her father’s collection and a lucky figa arm from Brazil where Ascher grew up after leaving Egypt with her parents as a baby in the ‘50s.
She arrived in Montreal at the age of 12 and has created more than one work in this show about feeling like “the other.”
Once Refuge is of a person still grasping onto their house as a turtle moves its foundations forward. Another work is accompanied by a dialogue text showing how insensitive we can be when speaking with refugees and immigrants.
“The pressure is to move on and leave the past behind you, but you’re formed by it and have to retain the memories,” says Ascher who fit well with her new home and has been director and curator of Galerie de la Ville at the Dollard Centre for the Arts for the past 29 years.
“If that child grew up in a place that was painful or difficult, it’s not something we should ever abandon or give up. As opposed to a replacement mentality, I prefer addition where you add things to your life,” she says.
“Immigrating is adding dimensions to yourself that you wouldn’t have if you stayed in one place and that has to be celebrated.”
Immigrating is adding dimensions to yourself that you wouldn’t have if you stayed in one place and that has to be celebrated.
Claudine Ascher reveals personal stories and universal truths in her clay sculptures at Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec until Feb. 26.