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Vol. 13, No. 6, 2014
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metalwork and the art of




Sometimes artists, featured in publications, aren't happy about the way they've been portrayed, so I've decided that, from time to time, I'll ask artists to write about themselves and their work; Such is the case with Darcia Labrosse (, a dynamic innovative artist, whose work I admire. [L.S.]



I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, of Swiss descent. My father was a radio broadcaster and my mother was very artistic: everything she touched turned to gold whether it was painting, decorating, sewing or knitting. My parents’ apartment housed the now defunct Montreal art gallery, VISUA. I grew up surrounded by paintings by Riopelle, Borduas, Cosgrove, the Group of Seven and Inuit soapstone. Art shaped who I was to become.

I graduated from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School in film animation and photography; my short films quickly won critical acclaim. Further studies at Concordia University’s Visual Arts Program, in lithography and painting, led me to question the very meaning of painting and its inherent medium, and the intimate subjective space we live in, but beyond appearance.

In the last decade, I have developed the Metal Language corpus, from which the paintings in this article are taken, and which I label Existential Expressionism. I am branching out from the Abstract Expressionist tradition, primarily because of “its fierce attachment to psychic self-expression . . . less a style than an attitude.”

I've worked as an editor, translator, writer and illustrator. I have published over40 books for children through HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hyperion and Random House in the US and the UK. I have also been involved in the design of the Artificial Intelligence semantic engineering Internet project IEML (Information Economy Meta Language) at the Collective Intelligence Lab at the University of Ottawa.

I now paint full time, dividing my time between different Ottawa powdercoating factories and Montreal, where I am artist in residence at the Fortmétal metalworks company. I also spend a lot of time travelling from art fair to art fair, from Miami-Basel to Armory or Volta in New York and visiting galleries from Vancouver to Toronto, London to Brussels, still looking for a gallery suited to my work. I am very much like a salmon swimming upstream: most academia and galleries are promoting conceptual art, installations with strong intellectual tones. Art today is mostly about ideas whereas what I produce is based on intuition and emotions.

In 2015, I will have solo shows in Toronto and in New Brunswick and I will continue to participate in different group shows.

I am profoundly a Montreal city girl; life and fate have taken me elsewhere. I actually live in the Gatineau Hills surrounded by nature, bears, lakes and beavers but I miss Montreal every day.



In this era of transhumance and deterritorialization, my work is a trace left by a performance in a factory setting, far from the habitual painting studio space.

To create the Metal Language corpus, as seen in part on the website, I have developed a unique technique where Fine Arts and the industrial world merge. I use a highly sophisticated medium generally used for colour finishing and protecting architectural siding: electrostatic paint, also known as powder-coating, on sheets of anodized or untreated aluminium, copper or steel. This medium was chosen for its endless possibilities and for its pigment vibrancy and robustness.

The process is intrinsic to my expression; a fast and conducive method that facilitates immediacy of thought and feeling, challenging a fine line between figuration and abstraction, traveling from the unconscious to the conscious. Overcoming the gravity of representation and the figurative, automatism and acquired reflexes, I mix brute force and emotions to paint ontological, disquieting, enigmatic human figures free from artifice, universal in its expression. My paintings are simply embodiments of the human condition. Moving through opalescence and a sometime monochromatic palette, the work is evocative, seminal and suggestive of a pre-incarnation, a transcendence evolving in an underlying objective space where our senses are fired into a leap of perception.

Rivets, bolts, studs, spikes, gold-plated screws and other surgical stainless steel piercings are applied afterwards, paradoxically exposing the immutability of the metal and acting as a metaphor for life-like stitches, scars and marks to the painted bodies.

Electromagnetic fields as a phenomenon, a life force and a binding agent, have become a unique and essential partner in my creative activity.

The end result is an art impervious to the elements: the paintings can be displayed both on walls or safely exposed outdoors where they easily morph into sculptures, adding a rich architectural dimension to an otherwise intimate and delicate art.


“Art is the distance that time gives to suffering.” Albert Camus,Notebooks 1955

“I am a story-teller, and I have but a single story -- man.” William Saroyan, 1933

My work is essentially intuitive, gestural action-painting executed at the confluence of Fine Arts, alchemy and the rough, cool detachment of the industrial world. It is constructed in a state where contrasts meet and clash. On a technical level, my strong interests in architecture, my welding apprenticeship followed by years of aimless roaming through heavy industrial building sites, ports, shipyards and foundries, led me to metal as the appropriate medium for what I want to express.

Fascination with the distorted human body is primary to my art ; echoing the catastrophic events of Minamata with its indirect repercussions on Butoh, the mummies of the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, the five-thousand-year-old Iceman, and more recently, the apocalyptic appearance of Rick Genest’s entirely tattooed body as he represents himself as both art and skeleton. It brings to mind Ensor, Soutine, Bacon’s fascination with teratology, De Kooning, Dubuffet and the CoBrA movement, Basquiat, Freud and so many other artists who have tried to push the human body’s envelope without completely losing perspective of its humanity.

In my early twenties, I had the great privilege of meeting Kazuo Ohno, one of the founder/dancers of the Butoh cultural movement. He performed privately for me -- his body, literally, inches away from mine -- engendered a profound epiphany. During his exquisite performance of La Argentina, this one-on-one connection provoked in me a deep emotional shock -- an awakening. As a small child, I had watched a black and white documentary on the discovery of World War II death camps. The forgotten and intense sensations of malaise, angst, fright and confusion left by the now famously iconic images of the self-destruction of the human race instantly resurfaced to my conscious mind with Ohno’s surreal presence, making Butoh a sort of anchorage, an inspiration, a link to long lost images burrowed and tucked away in my memory. Butoh, and its elements of Noh and Kabuki, itself inspired by film noir, Antonin Artaud, Marquis de Sade, Jean Genet and Mishima’s writings, and inspirited by German Expressionism and the Neue Tanze movement became subtextual influences in my work, unseen but subconsciously felt. Armed with draftsmanship and techniques and practices as varied as lithography, printmaking, filmmaking and photography, I visually communicate the repressed feelings of a child questioning the madness of men and violent images. In a nutshell, I'm looking for a way to overcome the distance between the painter and a wounded body, and between a wounded body and the universe.

The result is a visual dream within a dream, or more aptly, a nightmare within a nightmare -- where an emotional body swims back from the unconscious to the conscious mind, to finally resurface and breathe. With as little interference as possible, I try to save it from a virtual drowning -- for an instant. I have narrowed down to the bare essentials, precisely what is necessary to substantiate it. I am not interested in the explicit: decor, perspective, narrative or facial definition. Descriptive time has been erased to make an archetypal, feverish, human form. By eliminating the figure/background dialectic, I take a step back to an Abstract Expressionists’ time where evocation gave the viewer space to win over the specific.



DS: Can you conceive of getting to a stage where you had such freedom in your handling of the brush that it became unnecessary to interrupt the process with other practices?

FB: But I use those other practices just to disrupt it. I’m always trying to disrupt it. Half my painting activity is disrupting what I can do with ease. I want a very ordered image, but I want it to come by chance. From Interviews with Francis Bacon” David Sylvester, Thames and Hudson 1962-1979

"Drawing is faster than painting, perhaps the only medium as fast as the mind itself." Robert Motherwell, 1966

It is through the classical medium of oils and acrylics that I first tried to paint, with limited success. For a decade I produced infructuous paintings -- all but a few were destroyed. The process I was searching for had to be more immediate, almost in direct synchronicity with my emotions, that which drawings and quick sketches can sometimes render. Though painstaking, lithography gave me hope that I would eventually be able to abandon myself to increasingly less explicative gestures while still maintaining precision, the spirit of the stone was felt and explored with results, uncannily, in the Freudian sense, resembling my present work. Its palimpsest effect gave me a glimpse into what I could achieve if I had the proper medium. I would eventually be able to map a reflexive somatic narrative and reveal pages of a psychoanalytical inner Codex. I was on a lead, blindfolded.

Years of research and experimentation were devoted to reaching this goal. I had to develop a very unique and specific medium. It had to be agile, subtle and evanescent enough to evoke and translate the receding and concealed ethereal images seen by the mind’s eye, almost instantly. This medium would have to be able to defy and destabilize any pre-conceptions or ideas. This search for a medium that could convey and express darkness and decay, led to industrial electrostatic paint. It could, in its essence and processes echo the deafening meander of the chaos of an alienated industrialized world, while simultaneously respecting the limitations of its plane as an art form. Once revealed and tamed, the quest was to discover how this medium could be converted into an expressive tool. And once it was, a real ‘alchemy’ occurred and has thrived.

The pigments I use are as fine as talc, more like an independent pixel that won’t blend to produce another colour. Loose and free from any binding agent, it feels much like a multitude of cells in an ethereal state waiting for a breath, or a signal to multiply, and manifest itself. An electromagnetic field and the strength of my spirit hold the pigment on the plane. The constant vibrations of the mechanical room disturb, weaken and constantly shatter and alter my work-in-progress and I have to let go of any hope of controlling what I do. Lost in the process, I work in tune with all sensory perceptions. In the absence of any binding agent, the pigments then reveal their truths in the heat; they are cured at high temperatures in gargantuan oven. Only then do the images finally set on the metal surface. Only then can the souls return to breathe.


“I sing the body electric.” Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

“My opinion is that we need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements. It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any past culture. Each age finds its own technique . . . Most of the paint I use is a liquid, flowing kind of paint. The brushes I use are used more as sticks rather than brushes – the brush doesn’t touch the surface of the canvas, it’s just above" Jackson Pollock, New York, 1950

In the early 1930s, new media such as alkyd, polyvinyl acetates, polymers, nitro-cellulose, synthetic paints and resin-like acrylic emulsions became easily available. The ways in which artists applied and managed these agents were crucial to the development of twentieth century art. Industrial paint flowed onto canvasses, boards and masonite, letting abstract expressionists and pop and op artists go furiously faster in an exploding creative world. The use of masking tape gave birth to hard edges; colour fields existed by themselves like new, unexplored lands. Palette knives held their own, creating planes and moonscapes. Serigraphy and photography served Warhol well. Simultaneously, Frank Stella started using aluminium as a support. It is in an extension of this Abstract Expressionist tradition, in search of an even more contemporarily potent medium, that I found industrial electrostatic paint, also known as powder-coating, a direct and perfect outlet.

The process I use is fairly simple and the space I work in, with its stainless steel walls and floors, resembles a clinic or a laboratory more than a studio. There is no solitude, no intimacy, no privacy. There is no trace of me there, no images, no references, no visuals or guides to rhyme with what I want to create. It is all in my mind, eye and heart. The factory’s ambient noise is deafening, and sounds like David Lynch’s Eraserhead soundtrack or Thor’s or Dante’s imaginary thundering foundries. Acetone, rust and dust burn my eyes. Because I can’t breathe properly, the fogged visor greatly reduces my visibility. I hyperventilate from being so enclosed. Summer heat is suffocating, alienating. The expense of leasing factory time urges me to act quickly, and could be compared, somewhat, to working on a fresco: I sometimes get only one take. I truly work under a time constraint, and it is this very fact that brings me to a state of quasi-amnesia. Thoughts, rumination, trial and error are simply forbidden. There is a reconstruction of skills that takes me into a necessary trance. I am one with the medium, uninhibited.

This detachment leads to a distilled self, an entity that can only unfold in that very moment, in a painting.

Darcia Labrosse,
November 24th, 2014

© Darcie Labrosse


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Wonderful writing. Thanks.








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