Beth Stuart: Reube (V. Stepanova and M. Vionnet)

In June 2019, Toronto-based artist Beth Stuart will present a new large-scale mural – Reube (V. Stepanova and M. Vionnet) – on the underside of the Dundas Street East bridge, where it runs along the Lower Don Recreational Trail. 

Stuart's densely patterned mural continues her ongoing body of work related to Victorian-era social customs and conventions, and their continued influence on public life. In particular, Stuart researches the moments in which women have inserted themselves and their work in the development of modernism and the modern city.

For this project, Stuart re-visits the work of two significant female designers: Varvara Stepanova and Madeleine Vionnet. In the 1920s, Stepanova, a Russian artist, designed unisex sports costumes with strong geometric patterns, seeing sport and leisure as unifying and democratic activities. Stuart's mural applies one of Stepanova’s circular motifs, overlaid with figures based on sewing patterns by Vionnet – an early twentieth-century French fashion designer who popularized the 'bias cut', eradicating the corset and thus allowing women to move freely in their clothing. 

The stories and legacies of these two women evoke the emergence of modern city life, in the first decades of the twentieth century – an era in which urban infrastructure developed rapidly in cities like Toronto, along with new notions of ownership, property and social propriety.

Mapping the gendered conventions of the early twentieth century onto the Victorian-era Dundas Street East bridge, Reube (V. Stepanova and M. Vionnet) recalls the decisions that shaped Toronto 100 years ago. Stuart considers how clothing, urban infrastructure and landscape architecture determine how we move through public space, and suggests that the norms of the early modern period still impact how we live today. 

Reube (V. Stepanova and M. Vionnet) is the first mural commissioned as part of the Don River Valley Park Art Program. It will be on view for five years.

Artist Biography

Beth Stuart is a Canadian artist based in Toronto, Ontario. She works in an expanding range of media including writing, painting, ceramic, performance, textiles, and sculptural installation. Picking up on overlooked historical moments, characters and material techniques, she creates alternate plot points in the narrative of modernist abstraction in order to examine the physical and metaphysical implications of dissolving the figure-ground relationship. Recent material research has convened bizarre Victorian bathing customs, the tiny creatures that live between grains of sand on the beach, the politics of stretch, time travel, melting rock with her bare hands, pizza, and contemporary art as a site of ritual sublimation. She holds a graduate degree from the University of Guelph, and an undergraduate degree from Concordia in Montreal. Notable exhibitions include a solo exhibition at the Power Plant (Toronto 2018), the Esker Foundation (Calgary 2014), The Painting Project UQUAM (Montreal 2013) and An Assembly of Shapes, Oakville Galleries (2018). She is the recipient of numerous residencies, grants, and awards including the RBC Painting Prize, Skowhegan, the Canada Council for the Arts Paris Residency and the Canada Council’s Long-Term Grant for Visual Artists. She is represented by Susan Hobbs where she has a solo exhibition in the fall of 2019.