Winnie Truong, The Fringes

The last year and a half since she graduated from OCAD have been a whirlwind of activity for young Toronto artist Winnie Truong. The winner of the BMO 1st! artist prize for Ontario in 2010, and the recipient of the 401 Richmond Career Launcher Award has kept the artist well acquainted to attention even at this early stage in her career.

I caught up with Truong at El Almacon, steps away from her current solo show, The Fringes, at Erin Stump Projects (ESP) last week to discuss her art. I arrived slightly early to wolf down an empanada so as not to be disturbed mid- interview by the little body-snatcher I’m currently hosting.

Unlike her work, there is something refreshingly understated about this artist. Despite wearing nearly all black, her face has the fresh scrubbed cleanliness that comes with a full night’s sleep and the years spent under 25. The interview may have been shortest I have ever done with an artist, in many ways Truong lets her art speak for itself. That said there was nothing terse about her answers. She presents herself as open, amicable and gracious.

Her artistic direction came near the end of her Fine Arts degree at OCAD. Before pursuing the drawn image, Truong was focusing on perfecting a rigorous classical painting repertoire, fueled by academic art historical research and her explorations into cultural identity. Attempting to work within the unspoken hierarchy of artistic media, Truong made the necessary switch from acrylics to oils during her fourth year. Unsurprisingly after this transition, the change in technique left her feeling restricted.

Things changed after a drawing class with artist and OCAD instructor, Luke Painter. Painter inspired Truong to “free up” her artistic style. Abandoning the artistic hierarchy altogether, Truong began focusing on drawing.

This medium transition allowed her to shift her conceptual focus as well. Newly inspired by science fiction oddities  rather than the examination of her own culture, she started to explore the idea of the mutant or the outsider. In the earlier work on her website, the mutations within her figures include not just her “trademark” errant hairgrowth, but also shiney revolting red boils and misplaced teeth.

The “visceral discomfort” caused by her images is her primary conceptual motivation. Upon seeing her work, I easily jumped to the conclusion that the hair spoke of unrealistic expectations of female beauty. While she is definitely exploring our reactions and concepts of beauty, Truong’s primary reason for focusing on hair it seems, is simply the beauty with which it fits her medium.  She is quite adamant about wanting her work to remain completely apolitical, and have its worth reside in the emotional disquiet of the viewer- hence only one bearded lady present in her entire body of work.

Working strand by strand, Truong imagines herself a wire artist sculpting abundant locks on her figures and twisting threads of colour across their bodies to create impeccable contours to describe the skin and features of the subjects.  Denying extensive study of colour theory during her research as a painter, she insists that her conglomerate use of colour is instinctive and developed through the natural trial and error of dedicated artistic practice.

Apparently, Truong has been accused of using her friends as subjects, as the figures all evoke such strong personalities through their abnormal extensions.   Instead, the artist’s muse was once the models in fashion and hair magazines, though now her repertoire of facial features allows her to draw more from her imagination than from source material.

Winnie Truong’s exhibition, the Fringes,  is on until October 2 at ESP,1086 1/2 Queen Street West. Watch for her work in Lot42 of this year’s Casey House Art With Heart Auction, as well as Youthline’s Line Art 2010 Auction. Truong is represented by Erin Stump Projects inToronto, and Katherine Mulharin, New York.

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