—by James LaForest
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.
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.
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.
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.
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