Sheila Spence

Pictures of Me

Sheila Spence, Untitled (Portrait of a Male), 1986.

For over 20 years Winnipeg artist and activist Sheila Spence has dedicated her craft to the exploration of portraiture investigating issues around personal relationships, identity, and notions of community. Also, in many ways her entire oeuvre has been dedicated to her own search regarding her place in the community and family that surrounds her.

During the mid-1980s, her first major body of work focused on individual portraits that were devoid of a recognizable sense of place or time. Spence's subjects, drawn from her circle of friends, family, co-workers and members of the local arts community, were photographed from the waist up, positioned in front of a neutral background. The relationship between the sitter and the photographer is a key component to the strength of this series and is a powerful element which has remained constant in Spence's practice.

Spence's second major body of work dealt with families, in particular the investigation of people's place within their families. Through the capturing of body language, these works reveal the assumed and (self) imposed individual roles of family members from both a physical and emotional stand point. One complete piece consists of multiple images, with each image focused on a separate family member. To compose a "family portrait" in this manner further magnifies the relationships, tensions and ties that bind people together. With incredible subtlety, Spence's images reflect the complexity and high emotive weight relationships play in our individual lives.

During a residency at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts in 1989, Spence completed the Bed series, a set of landscape-type portraits of people enveloped in white sheets seemingly to be asleep. These evocative images take advantage of the contrast between the human body and the sculptural form of the sheets. Between 1991 and 1995, Spence was part of the artist collective, Average Good Looks, a group who created works for the public domain to stimulate discourse on lesbian and gay rights. your family."

The exhibition consists of approximately 75 works representing all phases of Spence's production drawn from private and public collections. as well as pieces taken directly from the artist's inventory. An accompanying catalogue, with a contribution from Robert McKaskell and an essay by curator Mary Reid, is available in the Gallery Shop.

Exhibition supported by the Imperial Tobacco Canada Foundation, The W.H. & S.E. Loewen Foundation

Sheila Spence, Don, 2007.


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