‘REPRESENTATION AND ABSTRACTION’: FRENCH-CANADIAN CULTURE IN THE ART OF LINDA RENAUD FISHER

—by James LaForest

The Birds, the Bee, a Dog and Jesuit Pear Tree.

The Birds, the Bee, a Dog and a Jesuit Pear Tree/Poirier Jesuite et amies – Linda Renaud Fisher

Linda Renaud Fisher is a Windsor, Ontario francophone artist drawing on local history and French-Canadian culture for inspiration, including her most recent collection ‘In Search of the Jesuit Pear Tree.’ She has exhibited throughout the province and recently in the United States. A selection of her work is presented here with permission. All works are copyright Linda Renaud Fisher and may not be reproduced in any way without prior, express consent of the artist. Further examples of her work can be found at GNO: La Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario and Nancy Johns Gallery and Framing.

*

Many people would likely agree that French-Canadian culture is constantly engaged in exploring its past, its sense of place and belonging in the lands where it was born and has existed over four centuries. This can be seen for example in the affinity it has for family heritage, often expressed through genealogy. Perhaps because we do not have our own country, there is a heightened ethnic consciousness – an innate awareness of the necessity of self-preservation.

'A la table de mes'ma tantes' explores fond memories of a close knit franco-ontarian family from the perspective of a young girl. The large country kitchen, a traditional setting for most family get togethers, is the setting. Common get-togethers usually included traditional song, food and laughter, whether here in Windsor or in Cornwall, bordering the St. Lawrence in eastern Ontario. The painting is rendered in a naive, semi obscurred way, representing the 'fuzziness' of fond childhood memories. It considers family and its changing role in our social fabric.

A la table de mes’ma tantes explores fond memories of a close-knit franco-ontarian family from the perspective of a young girl. The large country kitchen, a traditional setting for most family get-togethers, is the setting. Common get-togethers usually included traditional song, food and laughter, whether here in Windsor or in Cornwall, bordering the St. Lawrence in eastern Ontario. The painting is rendered in a naive, semi obscured way, representing the ‘fuzziness’ of fond childhood memories. It considers family and its changing role in our social fabric.-LRF

French-Canadians and French Metis often engage in a sort of cultural renovation: periodic excavation of family lines and family tales, a process that effectively constitutes a reflection on communal identity. This process is necessitated in part by the broader society around us in which our culture leads a shadow-like existence. In Detroit for example the Nain Rouge is often said to be “French” (not French-Canadian) and generalized – to be relevant to all Detroiters – while it’s particularity fades into the background.

'18th Century Ribbon Farms.' Lyrics from folklorist *Marcel Beneteau's songs along with fabric and wallpaper are integrated to emulate eighteenth century Southwestern Ontario ribbon farms. Fabric and wallpaper consistent with the period were utilized to symbolize women, to pay tribute to female ancestors.   The work is an appropriation of an 1798 map of Petite Côte, present day Lasalle Ontario, from *Ernest Lajeunesse's book, The Windsor Border Region. The names mentioned depict the once abundant area farms belonging to the ancestors of families who continue to live in Windsor and Essex County, including the Meloche family, of whom I am a descendant. *Appropriation of fig.10, The Windsor Border Region by Ernest J. Lajeunesse; text from Marcel Beneteau's C.D.,

18th Century Ribbon Farms. Lyrics from folklorist *Marcel Beneteau’s songs along with fabric and wallpaper are integrated to emulate eighteenth century Southwestern Ontario ribbon farms. Fabric and wallpaper consistent with the period were utilized to symbolize women, to pay tribute to female ancestors. The work is an appropriation of a 1798 map of Petite Côte, present day Lasalle Ontario, from Ernest Lajeunesse’s book, The Windsor Border Region. The names mentioned depict the once abundant area farms belonging to the ancestors of families who continue to live in Windsor and Essex County, including the Meloche family, of whom I am a descendant. (Appropriation of fig.10, The Windsor Border Region by Ernest J. Lajeunesse; text from Marcel Beneteau’s C.D., “A la table de mes amis” via Ted Drouillard). -LRF

Across the Detroit River, the small French-Canadian towns to the east of Windsor (Puce, Belle River, Pointe aux Roches, Pain Court, etc.) are now layered on maps beneath the modern amalgamation of ‘Lakeshore.’ To the west, one of the towns depicted on 18th Century Ribbon Farms (Riviere aux Canards) is subsumed into Amherstberg, a hamlet within a town whose namesake might strike a bitter historical note for Indians and French alike. Modern development slowly erases French-Canadian history from the map, even as a renaissance in French schools asserts itself in the area.

Cultural identity plays a significant role in the works of Windsor, Ontario artist Linda Renaud Fisher. Renaud Fisher incorporates themes of cultural ambiguity, history, and community into her work, exploring her “subject matter through the eyes of a francophone.” Renaud Fisher has what she calls a “utopian ideal” in searching for the “essence of healthy communities.” Through her work she seeks to provide opportunities to reflect on cultural values, just as the process of community development alters the natural and built environments around us.

In Everchanging Landscape, the natural environment paralells the cultural landscape, from the perspective of a francophone. Ambiguously rendered, the text is barely ledgible to provoke reflexion. It originally read, 'Ici nos service sont offerts en francais', representing the area's provincial designation and consequently its efforts to provide french language services to area francophones.

In Everchanging Landscape the natural environment parallels the cultural landscape, from the perspective of a francophone. Ambiguously rendered, the text is barely legible to provoke reflexion. It originally read, ‘Ici nos service sont offerts en francais’, representing the area’s provincial designation and consequently its efforts to provide french language services to area francophones.-LRF

One of Renaud Fisher’s favorite areas to depict, and exhibit in, is ‘Old Sandwich Town,’ the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in Canada west of Montreal. The area was first home to many First Nations communities. It was then a French community and home to loyalists after the War of 1812. It is now a disadvantaged area in transition (“maintenant quartier défavorisé en voie de reconversion à Windsor”), according to the artist. Many of the area’s original buildings are still standing, lending concrete evidence of the area’s unique historical importance.

Duff Bâby House Window explores the importance of connection to our history and our built environment. A multitude of layers of paint emulate layers of history in the third floor window of the Duff Bâby house, a historically and architecturally significant building in Windsor, Ontario. Many of the marks and symbols barely visible in the paint surface, represent events and people who have passed through this modest, yet important part of our built environment which has been restored and preserved.

Duff Bâby House Window explores the importance of connection to our history and our built environment. A multitude of layers of paint emulate layers of history in the third floor window of the Duff Bâby house, a historically and architecturally significant building in Windsor, Ontario. Many of the marks and symbols barely visible in the paint surface, represent events and people who have passed through this modest, yet important part of our built environment which has been restored and preserved.-LRF

Fisher works primarily in acrylic and mixed media on paper and canvas. She describes her form as “layered physically and conceptually, a mix of representation and abstraction.” Employing symbols from the communities and cultures with which she works, Renaud Fisher intends for her work to provoke reflection by means of an accessible visual language. In turn, this accessible language is employed in fostering discussion of inclusive, healthy communities. More simply put, her art can be seen as drawing on history and culture to promote ideas of healthy communities and future development.

The examples of Renaud Fisher’s work included here illustrate her artistic framework, sure to resonate with anyone familiar with local Windsor and Detroit-area history. For the descendants of the 18th century communities, particularly the Metis and French-Canadian habitants, her work constitutes a powerful expression of the place of their contemporary communities in the region. Despite persistent change over centuries, becoming at times “barely legible,” their cultural legacies provide great potential for contributing to the re-conceptualization of development on both sides of the Detroit River.

Linda Renaud Fisher’s artwork is successful in part because it is pleasant to regard. But her subject matter adds a richness of depth and dimension. By utilizing symbols and artifacts from a ‘almost disappeared’ culture she charges them with renewed energy. Simultaneously, she breathes new life and meaning into French Canadian culture in the area. In so doing, through her artwork and collaborations, the artist actively helps to build healthy community and discuss cultural values, the very subjects we are meant to reflect upon when viewing her art.

©James LaForest, 2014

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