Formal Intimacies

Sophie Jodoin

Sophie Jodoin draws on, and through, her life. The Montreal artist is a virtuoso drawer who has, for the last 25 years, produced bodies of work, most often Conté on Mylar, that have carefully delineated the intensities of the human condition. Much of her work has used the body as its subject, culminating in an exhibition at Battat Contemporary in 2011 called “I felt a cleaving in my mind.” The title for the show was also a scan of the inside of her head. The body had become too loaded and so she effected what she called “its voluntary absence. I had done a lot of melodramatic and violent work and I didn’t want to do that anymore.” In its place, she settled on an array of more neutral subjects that included “an architecture of buildings and furniture and bedsheets and domestic objects of all kinds.”

Sophie Jodoin, Letter 5, 2013, Conté on Mylar, 14 x 11 inches. Photograph: Éliane Excoffier.

This new work combined the intimacy of her subject matter with her formal instincts, and the results were both captivating and generativeIt seemed to give permission to recognize that her personal life could also become material for drawingThe most recent manifestation of that sourcing is the “Open Letters” seriesa set of 11 envelopes drawn with Jodoin’s characteristic exactitude and exhibited at Calgary’s Newzones in the fallViewers are not entirely sure what it is they’re looking at“people think they are photographs and I want to play on that confusionis it a collagea photographa digital print, is it a serigraph?” The series included envelopes of her own and broadened out to contributions from friends and even envelopes found on the streetThe only limit she accepted was that the backs had to be free of any kind of writingThey are slightly scaled down from actual size and Jodoin renders them with all their imperfectionsincluding stainingtears and wrinkles.

Interestingly enoughthe condition of the envelopes made Jodoin aware of their connection to the body“_Letter 2_ was resting on my work tablewhere I have jars of gesso and ink, and it got wetThat is what gave those wrinklesa kind of scarThey become like leather and the fine skin you see on the hands of older people.”  
Jodoin is adamant that even though the letters have an autobiographical element
they are not about self-portraitureTheir openness is an invitation to the viewer“It is about being able to offer them to anyone to take for themselvesI don’t see them as drawings so muchI see them as notesI see this as a diary, as writing more than drawing. As their name suggeststhey are open letters that anyone can re-appropriate and investigate.” 

Sophie Jodoin, Letter 1 (detail), 2013.

The drawing world Jodoin entered to do the “Open Letters” series was private and unrepeatable“They are so delicate and detailed that you get into a tranceI did them consecutively over two intense weeks and if I tried to draw them tomorrowI wouldn’t know how to do it.” There is an additional poignancy to their uniquenessJodoin feels she is drawing “the last remnants of somethingThey represent the loss of a gestureof a way in which we used to communicateThe new generation has never even written a letterso for them it is not even nostalgiaThe letter is a relic.” 

Volume 32, Number 4

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #128, published December 2013.

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