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Marianne Corless - Fur Queen

By Robert Amos April 28, 2003

} Marianne Corless - Fur Queen Marianne Corless: "Further", at the McPherson Playhouse, #3 Centennial Square, Victoria (tel: 361-0800, ext. 1806), until May 4. From the moment I stepped into the studio of Marianne Corless, the fur was a commanding presence. Hundreds of coats, in all stages of repair and all types of fur, surrounded us. She laid a beaver pelt at my feet, and I marvelled at its coarse yet soft hairs, and the gleaming shine of it. I felt I'd never seen one before. 'It's quite an exotic creature,' she smiled, 'and it's our national symbol.' The fur trade was based on the use of the fine soft underhairs which were ideal for making high quality felt hats. Marianne Corless grew up in Northern Alberta and came to Victoria to take a B. Sc. degree in Marine Biology. After two years in a Masters program she dropped out and enrolled at the Victoria College of Art. 'It was excellent,' she enthused. 'It was a way to explore art without the necessity of a stringent portfolio.' Among her memorable teachers there were James McGrath ('such a sincere person - he absolutely cared about what you were doing,') and Wendy Welch. Marianne Corless, the artist 'I don't know that I'll ever be a painter,' she remarks, 'though I really love painting.' In second year sculpture class, she took a little table and upholstered it with fur. 'I had some fur left over, and after 9-11 [The World Trade Centre catastrophe] I made a Canadian flag in fur. It was a response to all the American flags, and the flags at half mast.' That work, and her blanket series which emerged simultaneously, were accepted in the B. C. Festival of the Arts. Her participation in that festival (now, regrettably, entirely cancelled) she found to be 'really, really useful.' Realizing that fur and Canadian history are utterly bound together, she began a series of portraits of our historical icons in fur - Queen Elizabeth 1, Sir John A. Macdonald, and Queen Elizabeth 2. She also felt the need to balance this with our French history and added Louis XIV, Louis Riel and Sir Wilfred Laurier. 'The portraits serve a purpose in terms of accessibility. People accept portraits, and can relax and think about the work.' Fur John A. Macdonald, beaver, mink, muskrat, seal and rabbit fur, 28" x 22" The blankets are a complement to the 'very tedious, fine work under the sewing machine,' which is required for the fur pieces. The blankets she sees as more emotive and expressive. Beginning with thrift shop woolen blankets, Corless cut them, wounded them, inflicted bullet holes upon them. 'They became a metaphor for flesh,' she notes. That red rash she painted on them is a reference to small pox. 'Some claim that it was deliberate,' she notes regarding this historical footnote to blankets in Native culture. The wounded blankets were then sutured together, evidence of healing. Out of the wounds emerge little 'hair balls'. 'That¹s my hair,' Corless asserted. 'I think it's a nice comment - animal fur, human hair. Some people think it's gross, but I think it's natural. People tell me all sorts of things.' In her studio I saw little quilts she had made of contrasting colours of fur. One had a maple leaf motif, and she pointed out another which is composed of repeats of the Bank of Montreal symbol. 'That was the first bank in Canada, closely associated with the fur trade,' Corless remarked. The resonances of her work become ever deeper as we explore. Mink, muskrat, seal, buffalo - we are in a menagerie. 'My costs have tripled in the past year,' Corless adds. 'Fur is back in fashion.' She can no longer find any at a good price in thrift shops, and now buys old coats on eBay! 'The computer fur trade,' she snickers. People sell off old coats that have been left too long in storage. The artist senses that the next development of this project will involve the personal histories of those who wore them. Fur Queen II, mink, muskrat, beaver and ermine fur, 16" x 20" 'They're luxury items, like jewelry,' she points out. Sugar daddies buy them for their sweethearts. 'But they devalue over time. And now I come along and recycle them.' The recycling is important to her - she is aware of the political problems some people have with furs, though she is not at all interested in trapping. 'I don't have the stomach for it,' she admits. Fur, to her, is a symbolically beautiful material with an interesting life of its own. Corless has found her work strikes a responsive chord, and this series is scheduled for shows at Vancouver's Artropolis and Grunt Gallery, and later in Calgary and Hamilton. The entire show is available for viewing in the upper foyer of the McPherson Playhouse during performances or by appointment. You can see Marianne Corless¹s entire exhibition on-line at www.corless.ca. ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2003 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com