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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 4, 2004

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marc a. j. fortier's

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Painter and sculptor Marc André Jacques Fortier was born in Montreal in 1961. Since his first exhibition in 1986, his painting and sculptures have been exhibited widely in Canada, the United States and France. Among his best known public works are the fountain at the Corporation de gestion de marchés publics de Montréal (1996) and the mural at the Burrard Commercial Centre in Vancouver, BC (1988). He has distinguished himself as an artist of immense talent and originality by winning First Prize, “The Art of the Automobile,” sculpture, Toronto, 1999 and the prestigious Bronze Palm Medal, Biennale de Paris, 1993. In 1992 Fortier received a grant from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Quebec. His oeuvre is extensively exhibited internationally and is part of permanent collections including that of the Bata Museum, Toronto, the Armand Bombardier Museum, Montreal, the Municipality of Laval (Quebec), the Municipality of Terrebonne (Quebec), the Claridge-Bronfman Collection, Montreal, the Richmond Art Museum, Richmond (British Columbia), and the Royal Canadian Mint Collection in Ottawa. His works have also found permanent homes in many private collections around the world.

Woman behind Man
bronze sculpture, 10th ed, 32"x22"x17", 2004

Sex, sexy, sexual, kinky, fetish, erotic, libidinous, hot stuff, provocative, shady, bawdy, daring, dirty, earthy, foul, gross, hot, immodest, indelicate, indiscreet, inelegant, juicy, lewd, lurid, naughty, obscene, off-color, offensive, provocative, purple, racy, raw, ribald, salacious, salty, sizzling, smart, smutty, spicy, suggestive, wicked. These are some of the words uttered by the public upon viewing Marc A. J. Fortier’s exhibition at the Berensen Gallery this past spring. The fact of the matter is that in a Montreal plagued this past spring and summer by very commercial and boring exhibits, Fortier’s showing was one of the best and certainly the most refreshing.

Woman behind Man
oil on canvas, 89" x 49", 2004

Those who are compelled to define the style of every artist could pigeonhole Fortier’s work as classical. I prefer to acknowledge his talent and strong feel for matter, form and color. Simply said, this artist uses his tremendous technical ability to communicate. Through his work, Marc A. J. Fortier draws from his life-experience to narrate his own story in ways that convey his emotions, ideas and opinions. Fortier has a very powerful and distinct voice that is sometimes surprising in an artist of his age. Speaking clearly and loudly, his latest exhibition refreshes because he has something to say -- or perhaps something to get out of his system-- and he meets his aims immediately and directly. Yes, his exhibition is about sex and the relationships between men and women but what ultimately stands out in Fortier’s work -- and in this presentation in particular-- is his message. Unlike many other artists, he is not trying to please anybody in order to bust sales; his retrospective collection is cohesive and confident and stands on its own merits.

Feminists may dismay that he is setting women back 50 or 60 years but in point of fact he is telling us something we do not want to admit in our politically correct world: things are never black or white.

Woman behind Man (sculpture and painting) mark the genesis of the exhibit and according to Fortier, he began the work with this image, first conceiving the sculpture followed by the oil on canvas. And these are not the only pieces that deal with this theme. Women dressed in corsets - oh la, la! Les corsets, les corsets -- are symbolic of sexual oppression but also connotative of earthy sensuality. However, I would not read Fortier’s pieces as one or the other for these are neither sensual or alluring women. They look more like beast tamers -- very strong and obviously relishing their authoritarian position as evidenced by their mirthful control of the male marionettes. Could Fortier be alluding to the kind of ruthless and controlling female that looks like a woman but behaves like a man? They really exist, you know? The artist seems to assert the adage that there are indeed different strokes for different folks. Some men are happy with this kind of woman, a state of affairs affirmed by the marionette in the sculpture with a big smile on its face, and some are not so happy, borne out by the marionette in the painting that bears a sad expression.

There are two very cute paintings in the show. Pug on Leash and Poodle on Leash represent two pure-breed dogs out for a walk with their masters. The innocent and juxtaposed nature of these images suggests a reversal of roles. The poodle stereotypically belongs to the feminine world, the pug to the masculine. The man wears conservative, non descript pants and shoes, the woman is attired in the same fishnet stockings and high heel, laced-up boots as the character in Woman behind Man. The dogs, under the rein of their masters and unable to bark, run, sniff, or mate as they wish, reflect the strict control exerted over them and their environment. While these are personal interpretations, they serve to illustrate the provocative capacity so characteristic of Fortier’s work in general and this exhibition in particular. Fortier says he is searching for balance, that he wants to show both sides of the coin in order to empower the viewer with her own awareness and appreciation.

Pug on Leash
oil on panel, 37” x 41”, 2004
Poodle on Leash
oil on panel, 40” x 36”, 2004

Also appearing in this show is a re-worked version of his Happiness Bouquet, a companion theme frequently featured in his exhibits. In it the viewer finds many objects deemed desirable to achieve happiness. Vintage Fortier, we are once again invited to reflect upon the superficial and vain qualities of greed and power. Signature vintage Fortier, he cannot hide his opinion on the subject.

Happiness Bouquet
oil on panel, 60” x 59”, 2004

In a softer mood and in a vive la différence! kind of way, Fortier elegantly emphasizes those important differences that make us attractive to the opposite sex.

oil on panel, 60” x 45”, 2004
oil on panel, 60” x 45”, 2004

Family Balance, one of my favorite pieces in the exhibition, represents the need for balance in a family regardless of the conformation or inter-dependence of its members. The sculpture captures this idea quite haphazardly and underscores the fragile equilibrium of family dynamics that continuously changes and shifts.

Family Balance
bronze sculpture, ed. 8, 20” x 11” x16”

The shoe, whether it appears in a sculpture such as Family Balance or as a collection of shoes displayed decoratively in a painting, is a recurring motif in Fortier’s art and contrary to what many people may think, is not a fetish. This oft revisited image is poignantly analyzed by Marie-Andrée Brière in 1998:

In Marc A. J. Fortier’s work, the shoe is a recurring iconographic symbol. It punctuates the artist’s earliest paintings and reveals a certain state, namely that of the shoe owner. A dialogue is established in the work between the shoe and the staged character. The shoe unmasks its owner, identifying him, underlying his social status, his tastes, his power and his frailty as well as his ambivalence. The foot hiding in the shoe does not show all the discomfort that lies within!

Marc A. J. Fortier has a great sense of humor which he constantly shares with the public. He jokingly pays homage to Magritte with his composition Clin d’oeil à René Magritte.

Clin d’oeil à René Magritte
oil on panel, 31” x 36”
Ceci n’est pas une pipe
René Magritte, 1929

And he teases the viewer with Toys.

oil on panel, 34” x 59”, 2004

Despite its innocent title, the phallic shapes portrayed in Toys are unmistakable. Fortier points out contextually that surrounded as it is by all the other pieces in the exhibit, Toys may impact or even shock the viewer. Placed on its own in any living room, it is just a beautiful study of shapes in different colors and sizes presented in a well organized horizontal composition. The same statement could be made for Dildos although the not so innocent subject matter is revealed in the title. Oh well, so much for prudery . . . !

If the progenitor of the collection presented at the Berensen gallery was the somewhat unsettling, ruthless and controlling Woman behind Man, I chose Love and Cup-and-ball as the show-closer. The manner in which the softness of the bed tenderly spills out of the canvas, the perfect balance in the saturation of modulated complementary colors, the beauty, solidity, fit and symbolism of the spooning cup-and-ball, and of course the chocolate bar - all speak to me of happiness, recovered balance and being in love.

Love and Cup-and-ball
oil on panel, 31 x 25 inches, 2004

Happy to know that the exhibit was a success and that there are serious collectors who appreciate this talented, outspoken and uninhibited artist. Chapeau to the Berensen Gallery!

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