For the last fourteen years, give or take, Janet Werner has been turning heads. Or, more specifically, her art's been doing that—and not just turning heads, but grabbing lapels, demanding attention, and refusing to let go.
And now she's come to the Drake Hotel.
Since 2000, Werner's unique, subtly arresting portraiture has been the talk of the exhibition circuit. In 2000, her exhibition titled "Beautiful Losers," presented in tandem with Michael Fernandes, was the big attraction at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina. Locally, the Robert Birch Gallery hosted her work in 2004, the same year that we opened our newly-renovated doors to Queen West.
Year after year, her paintings—startlingly life-like depictions of people and places, graced with a sense of oddity, which we'll get to—would crop up in one gallery or another, before jumping overseas in the mid-2000s. Names like "Beauty takes a holiday," "Too much happiness," and "Is Anything Alright?" appeared on the marquees of galleries worldwide, announcing the arrival of a new, engaging artistic vision. The rising interest in her solo work eventually brought her to places like Cologne, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic, before all roads finally pointed to the Drake.
If you've been to the Drake, you've seen one of our hotel's best features: the staircase ascending from the Lounge to the Sky Yard. Before the Drake was even opened to the public, the very first piece of the Hotel's permanent collection was installed in this spot. Now, after ten years and hundreds of thousands of views, we're inaugurating a new piece of art in the very same location. Once we saw Janet Werner's portrait titled "Ariel," we knew we had a new resident on our hands.
A common perception of Werner's work is the idea of deconstructing the everyday reality of the photographic image, to quote a few reviews. Essentially, the photorealism of her portraits, for example, include one or two little blink-or-you'll-miss-it details—cartoonishly enlarged eyeballs, for example, or lips just a bit too big for the face. That's what you'll see when you look Ariel in the eyes, walking up or downstairs. Her gaze—sad, observant—washes across the Drake's Lounge, with those oddly-enlarged eyes putting across a sort of uncanny-valley strangeness. It's so real, so arrestingly life-like, but those little aesthetic details are what make you do a double-take.
"There are so many things I like about that piece," says Mia Nielsen, curator of all things art at The Drake Hotel. "At first glance it has all the tropes of a classic portrait but look a little closer and it's equally unsettling as it is beautiful. The exaggerated features are almost grotesque and make her appear a little fragile against the expansive background, yet don't eclipse the delicate beauty of the piece."
"I really like it with the Evan Penny sculpture," she adds, "both works are exaggerated in different ways that compliment each other."
Take a look, then come down to see for yourself.