Pierre Ayot’s Work in Progress: following the lineage of the artist’s studio

Pierre Ayot. Work in Progress. Pierre Ayot. Work in Progress.

By Stephanie Gagné

Although 2016 has not been an ideal year for most citizens of planet Earth, it certainly has been a successful year for the late Montreal native artist, Pierre Ayot (1943 – 1995). The multidisciplinary artist has had his works retrospectively exhibited in Montreal galleries, moreover, his infamous (and contentious) public sculpture, La croix du Mont-Royal, was re-mounted facing the iconic Mount-Royal Cross last fall. The founder of Atelier Graff, and a professor at the UQUAM, Ayot has made a name for himself through his sculptures, installations and prints. It seems most appropriate that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts would showcase an intimate exhibition of his single installation, Work in Progress (1986).

Through a small entrance on the second floor of the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, Pierre Ayot is found wearing stained jean overalls with his back towards the viewer, seated on a wooden stool. Ayot is engrossed, painting a self-portrait in the manner of pointillism, amongst ladders, sawhorses and shipping boxes dispersed across the space. The feeling of voyeurism washes over the viewer, as if spying on the artist’s intimate process of creativity. However, appearances can be deceiving… Walking further down the deep space, the artist’s body is, in essence, a painted plaster cast, confined within a singular time and space as the mannequin holds a paintbrush in his right hand, inches away from the canvas. Furthermore, the canvas is composed of two layers: the foreground layer presents itself as a screen for a projection of the artist’s self-portrait, whereas the background layer frames the “painting”. Is this studio installation genuine to Ayot’s atelier or is he playing with the viewer’s conceptions of what a studio ought to appear? Regardless, Ayot encourages the viewer to project one’s ideas of an artist’s studio onto Work in Progress as he follows the thematic lineage of the artist’s studio in western art history.

Stemming from the Renaissance, the allegorical theme of the artist’s studio has primarily been employed within the medium of painting; Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), Gustave Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio (1854-1855), as well as Kent Monkman’s Welcome to the Studio (2014), come to mind. A laden subject, the atelier has been encapsulated by myth – as a sacred space of creativity and inspiration – but has also included specific motifs and symbols to signify allegories of death, history, and painting itself. However, Ayot has renovated this theme into a three-dimensional space, allowing the viewer to intimately enter and engage with his studio. His deception of the realism of his studio humorously criticizes the idolization and idealization of the artist’s studio, as well as the compelling notion of artistic genius. Simultaneously, Ayot reveals the amount of time, energy and labor involved in creating art through the sawhorses and wooden planks; art is not always as glamorous as it is physically demanding.

Playful, seductive and thought provoking, Work in Progress by Pierre Ayot is exhibiting at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until March 19, 2017. To find more information, click here.