“Black Cloud” (1995) reiterates this phantomlike, elusive condition of the image. Clouds are the perfect icons of insubstantiality, the very image of potentiality. “Black Cloud” is the most dense yet also the most atmospheric of Therrien’s drawings. It sucks us into an unfathomable distance and seems as something seen from afar, indistinctly, but vividly. Branding itself indelibly on the sheet and in our minds, it pulsates like a retinal afterimage or a heart. It seems to condense on the page mysteriously. Potentiality resides in its indefinition. Equally, though, the image’s materialization represents a subtraction of potentiality. The image cancels the emptiness of the blank white page, the ground of potentiality, and mars its serenity and silence with its brooding presence.
My Own Artistic Roots
The cloud image also exists in various three-dimensional versions, all of which are wall reliefs, and whose appearance is as oxymoronic as the notion of a cloud sculpture itself. The amorphousness and intangibility of the drawn cloud is necessarily sacrificed in the sculpture and replaced by a stylized form that produces an effect combining monstrosity and humour. The surreality of “Blue Cloud” (1996), the latest version of this image, is owing partly to the stultified precision of the sculptural forms (so incongruous to the ephemerality of real clouds). The exaggerated artificiality and naivete of the forms are comical. They reduce the cloud to a generic, emblematic shape, to an abstraction, or a child’s toy. Also, four bronze taps stuck into the sides of the billowing spheres puncture the illusion of levitation and spiritual reverie otherwise operative in the work and mischievously inject an odd coupling of earthy pragmatism and sexual innuendo. On balance “Blue Cloud” unites the metaphysicality of a De Chirico or Guston with the loopy, sentimentalized, fantasy world of Disney. The work slides easily between these two worlds. Finally it is this sense of comfort or accommodation rather than estrangement that one discovers in the work and that belies its “surreality” in the historical sense of the word.
Childhood, as a signifier of potentiality and as a cocooned state full of enchantment, is often evoked by Therrien’s objects. “Snowman” (1983-4) is a childish, rudimentary representation of a human figure. “Blue Oval” (1987) is its counterpart. The allure or fascination of both these images resides in their inference of a human presence in an abstract form. Both are abstract shapes with an iconic presence. Both are among Therrien’s simplest yet most profound works and both combine qualities of primitiveness with exceeding formal sophistication and subtlety. By their very anonymity and generality they are able to serve as vessels that each of us can identify with profoundly yet also on one’s own specific terms. They serve as universal markers of place or identity, the one a rudimentary sign for the human figure, reminiscent of the cairns found in certain primitive cultures, and the other a cipher for a human face or designating a mirror and the role of fantasy in the economy of representation. Both are banal talismans, objects at once mute yet charmed, gnomic yet richly evocative, resuscitating the enchantments of childhood and suspending time.
Through the balance of its (classical) emphasis on formal articulation, repetition, and variation and a (romantic) interest in spontaneity and feeling, Therrien’s art, as is also evident from its partly banal, partly intimate (personal) characteristics, mediates between art’s public and private functions and spaces.