The career of painter and author Monique Régimbald-Zeiber spans more than 35 years. She has developed a fascinating approach that disrupts the history of Québécois formalist painting by inserting references to the body and women’s realities, as described by women. Her mission: to give these stories a presence, rather than reducing them to anecdotes or news items, by “figuring differently.” She walks a fine line between abstract and figurative art, treating words as images and approaching pictorial composition from a syntactic perspective; the result is a distinctive hybrid of the disciplines at the heart of her work, literature and painting. Monique Régimbald-Zeiber has been a professor at UQAM’s school of visual and media arts for 20 years, where she has made a major contribution to the education of Quebec’s current generation of contemporary artists.
This season, the Musée d’art de Joliette presents the artist’s first retrospective, comprising works from the 1980s along with very recent pieces, designed to highlight the common thread running through a career that has put dialogue front and centre.
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Monique Régimbald-Zeiber, view of the exhibition Of Works and Hours, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2019. Photo credit: Romain Guilbault.
Monique Régimbald-Zeiber lives and works in Montreal. Early in her career, she developed an interest in writing and politics in art. In 1980 she earned a PhD in literature, focusing on a comparative reading of text and imagery in the Russian avant-garde. She was a professor at UQAM’s school of visual and media arts from 1992 to 2012. As a painter, for more than three decades she has questioned the construction of the gaze and history, in particular that of women, with an approach focused on working at and within the intersections of painting and writing. As part of that work she took an interest in the skin as the ultimate repository of personal history. Her works are found in a variety of collections, including those of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and the Galerie de l’UQAM, and have been exhibited in Quebec, across Canada and in Europe. Her two most recent solo shows were in Rome in 2008 with Éclats de Rome at La Nube di Oort gallery, and in Montreal in 2011-2012 with Les dessous de l’histoire (2) at Galerie B 312. In 1997, she and Louise Déry, director of the Galerie de l’UQAM, founded a publishing house, Les Éditions Les petits carnets.
Curatorial Text —
From the kitchen to the bedroom via the studio—the contemporary version of “a room of one’s own”—Monique Régimbald-Zeiber explores the places and words that are linked to the lives of women in pictorial works that function as conversations. Recognized for her involvement in the worlds of art, teaching, and research, MRZ has also worked as a painter for over thirty-five years. Her process disrupts the history of Quebec formalism in painting by inserting references to women’s bodies and realities, as described by women. In doing so, she hopes to give visible presence to their stories—often reduced to realm of anecdotes or trivia—by finding ways to “portray them otherwise.” From Marguerite Bourgeoys to Annie Ernaux, by way of Jane Austen, Naomi Fontaine, Nicole Brossard, and Agnes Martin, among others, languages and time transcend borders to meet in works that broaden the notion of abstraction by applying it to language as well as painting. But given their relationship to reality, don’t words also rely on a system of conventions that can only make sense through the acquiring of knowledge? Or, conversely, because words trigger images of the reality they convey, are they not just the tools of representation? Forever balancing between abstraction and figuration, MRZ’s work singularly combines literature and painting by treating words as images and by approaching pictorial composition as syntax.
Terms linked to women’s bodies and genitals, or words used to address women, carry references to eating and to animals and reduces them to the status of objects of consumption or possession. These slippages, from word to image and from image to word, infect our imagination with pejorative connotations. In response, MRZ selects and copies the writing of women who embody the urgency of speaking out. Their words on incest, feminicide, abortion, silence, abandonment, but also their resilience and actions, remind us of the importance, even today, of taking an uncompromising stand against the scandalous fate that women still endure. MRZ brings together a chorus of women’s voices that speak of the paths taken and those left to conquer. This first retrospective brings together works from the 1980s until today, and reveals the through-line of a career based on exchange, communication, and community.
Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, Curator of Contemporary Art