From our interview with Vancouver-based monotype print maker Renée Gouin.
I arrived at the building which housed Renée Gouin's studio. It was located in a structure appropriately named "The Artiste". The building itself had an older charm, and consisted of long winding hallways. As I navigated past rows of rooms, I wondered how many creative souls lived and worked their magic in this vast abode.
"Hello!" A flash of blonde and a friendly wave signalled to me from the distance. Renée had been waiting by the door in case her lost guest needed some guidance. I stepped into her studio, which opened up to a slender white space filled with Renée's minimal prints.
Monotypes, they were called. Her distinctive style permeated each piece. They were a collection of shapes — geometrical and abstract — shapes that pieced together like puzzles to form full pictures.
After settling down with a cup of warm tea and some fruits, I took a closer look at Renée's work. Women were her main subject: both in their unique forms and the absence of them. There were prints of women assembled in various outfits, women walking across pages, and vast white spaces where a woman likely once resided. Faces left ambiguous. The artist had captured the bare essence, the uncovered souls of these women.
"Negative space is really important in my images. It accentuates the subjects within the space and their relationship with one another," Renée explained.
"By paring down the compositional elements, I can express the aesthetic experience in a more immediate and direct way."
She picked up a piece of delicate, cream-coloured paper. She continued,
"I also take a lot of inspiration from the immediate tactile experience of my materials, especially paper — how it reacts and responds to the paint, pressure I apply, and the marks and effects that result. Beyond the studio, the ritual of walking in the park, the seawall, or hiking in the mountains has become essential to helping me feel embodied and aware."
She gently laid the paper down onto her work desk. I nodded at the importance of sourcing the right materials for a creative project. The paper Renée used was imported from Japan, just as many of the fabrics in Vestige garments are sourced from Japan and Italy. Premium materials form building blocks, and true quality stems from a solid foundation.
"How did you first get into monotype printmaking? What attracted you to this medium?" I asked.
"For a long time I was focused on painting and drawing, but I found myself wanting to create graphic, flatter, and more immediate shapes. I started to experiment with the process of monotype print making about 9 years ago, which blends painterly gestures with print making. I now feel very comfortable with this method and enjoy all of the subtle nuances the technique provides."
Renée sat and began to work on a current piece. She picked up a small paint roller and added a dabble of rich ochre paint to a glass plate. She then gently wiped down the plate to form her first shape. The process was fluid, a gentle translation of the map in the her head to plate, then to paper.
"My intention is to express a certain sense of femininity that includes vulnerability, delicacy, and elegance, in a clear and graphic language," she spoke as the roller smoothed out the paint.
"In some ways this is very personal, but they’re also universal themes that I think resonant with a lot of people. I work instinctively to reflect the feeling I want to convey in a specific piece. Sometimes this means re-doing a whole piece just to adjust the shade or tone of a single shape for the piece to feel resolved."
I glanced at the golden hued shape Renée just created. It was slim and elegant, and could assume the shape of a dress, a sleeve, a leg or a torso. An engaging part of her work is the mystery it exudes. The messages and imagery she weaves into her print is left open for interpretation.
"I’m interested in exploring the relationship between femininity and modernity. The face of my female subjects is usually left unmarked so the emphasis is on their gestures, how they engage with one another, and with the clothing. Fashion is a way to create and experience a sense of personal beauty and empowerment, so I try to capture this feeling."
Our interview session came to an end as the sun eased into its early stages of its daily slumber. The studio dimmed, and I asked Renée if she had any advice for other aspiring creatives.
She paused for a moment. Looking at the tools and papers spread out across her table, she answered:
"Love what you do and take nourishment from the process of creating work you’re proud of."
"It can be a long path to where you want to be as an artist, both creatively and for recognition, so be persistent and patient. Be willing to take on projects and commissions that push you outside of your comfort zone, but also be clear on your terms in order to deliver the best result."