Artwork by Joyce Wieland,  “Conversation Piece” with a Short on Sailing

Joyce Wieland
“Conversation Piece” with a Short on Sailing

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1960 lower right; signed and titled on the reverse
16 x 12 ins ( 40.6 x 30.5 cms )

Auction Estimate: $9,000.00$7,000.00 - $9,000.00

Price Realized $5,900.00
Sale date: September 24th 2020

The Isaacs/Innuit Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Jan Allen, “Joyce Wieland: Twilit Record of Romantic Love,” The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, December 18, 1994 - March 26, 1995, The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art [online]
Iris Nowell, “Joyce Wieland: A Life in Art”, Toronto, 2001, pages 150, 152 and 154
Upon meeting and subsequently falling in love with Michael Snow in the late 1950s, the two married and later took a two-month holiday to Cuba in 1958. It was during this time where Wieland took a deep dive into the exploration of gender dynamics, love, the imbalance of power in relationships and raw sexuality. During this trip, Wieland's relationship and intimate interaction with Snow in their new marriage informed dozens of drawings of abstracted unified couples and contributed to some of her “Lovers” drawings of the late 1950s to 1962. Iris Nowell writes: “the sexuality Joyce expressed in these works had to have emanated from personal experience. Her love/passion for Michael and her ventures into eroticism hurled her artistically upside down, from the innocent drawings of naked ladies she made as an eight-year-old girl, to truly erotic images. The drawings are sexually explicit, tender, passionate, and amusing; they are love.” This critical short period of time is integral to the understanding of this early work on canvas, “’Conversation Piece’ with a Short on Sailing”.

Between 1959 and 1960, Wieland set up a proper studio space, purchased canvases and supplies and started executing larger scale works. Representing the first suggestion of her artistic future, the provocative works often featured phalluses, vaginas and hearts rendered in a humorous cartoon-like representation. Exploring this new lexicon, Wieland called these works her “sex poetry”. During a time where the female subjugation from her male contemporaries was celebrated, Wieland turned the tables and gazed at the male with the same liberty and lust automatically afforded to these male artists. “’Conversation Piece’ with a Short on Sailing” exemplifies this cheeky and boundary pushing question of gender politics. The male and female sexual forms float independently in the compositional space, speckled with small bright rounded hearts, communicating visually the relationship of love and sexuality. Separated by bands of bright colours and a depiction of a film still-- deeply rooted in Wieland's exploration into film, the land and ecology-- the work celebrates sexuality for its own sake. Jan Allen writes on these works produced by the artist in the 1960s: “In a context of rapidly shifting social conventions and beliefs, Wieland maps out elements of human motivation, the objects of desire which function as tokens of power.” The artist's bold personality is directly translated in this work as it unabashedly explores human sexuality from the important perspective of a woman. The demure, severe and reserved mores of femininity have been cast aside in this work to make way for the politically charged bold voice of powerful female sexuality.

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Joyce Wieland
(1930 - 1998)

After graduating from the Central Technical School in Toronto in 1948, having studied design, Joyce Wieland went on to work as a graphic designer in the early 1950s while developing her practice in visual art. Living and working with other artists in Toronto, Wieland met noted Canadian artist Michael Snow and eventually married him in 1956. Shortly thereafter, Wieland's solo career began to develop with her first solo show in 1960 after a number of group shows. She developed a professional relationship with Canadian art dealer Avrom Isaacs and was represented by his gallery.

Moving to New York in the 1960's, Wieland began experimenting with film alongside her visual arts practice—paintings, assemblages, and mixed media works often including themes of eroticism and feminism. Film and the role of the filmmaker/voyeur figured prominently in her self-reflexive pieces where she often depicted herself as the subject of her own gaze. While in New York, Wieland became concerned with both American and Canadian politics. Particularly for Canadian issues, the sweep of Trudeaumania of the 1960's prompted Wieland to explore issues of nationalism, national identity, and political activism.

In 1971, the National Gallery of Canada held a solo exhibition for Wieland entitled “True Patriot Love,” which opened on July 1st. In this seminal exhibition, symbolic artifacts of Canada were at the pinnacle of the pieces, including plays on the newly recognized national anthem (1967), the adoption of the maple leaf flag (which replaced the red ensign), and gendering Canada as female—a comment on how issues of gender and nationality were interchangeable.

Throughout the 1980's, after her and Snow's relationship came to an end, she returned to painting. Themes of hallucinatory eroticism figured prominently in these later works. In 1987, the Art Gallery of Ontario held a retrospective, critically examining her work and offering an environment where her experimental film and visual art pieces could be experienced in tandem.

During the 1990's Wieland's health began to deteriorate, the artist eventually passing in 1998 from the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

“Instead of taking national identity for granted, Wieland called visitors to reimagine and reclaim nationhood.” (Johanne Sloan, “Joyce Weiland: Life and Work,” Art Canada Institute, 2014, page 31)