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Meryl McMaster turns inside out 

The photographer brings her self-examining portraits to Anna Leonowens.


Meryl McMaster: Collected Journeys

June 28-July 9

Artist presentation: Tuesday, June 28, noon

Anna Leonowens Gallery, 1891 Granville Street


Meryl McMaster's portraits feel kinetic and layered. With light and sculpture, the Ontario-based artist brings new dimension to an often stoic art form, and questions the role of photography and depictions of the self.

"There was a magical and mysterious element to the process" of photography, says McMaster, "from taking the image to processing the film to developing the image in the darkroom. It brought about a curiosity and excitement that I hadn't necessarily experienced in other forms of art."

She will be showing pieces from three bodies of work—Ancestral, Second Self and Wanderings—as a part of the Anna Leonowens Gallery's summer visiting artist series, with McMaster giving a presentation at the gallery Tuesday at noon. All three collections are connected through their exploration of the self and identity through portraiture, albeit with differing focuses and aesthetics.

Particularly striking are the portraits from Second Self, a series that McMaster completed between 2010 and 2011. Her subjects stare from behind abstract wire sculptures that are modelled after blind contour drawings that the subjects drew of their own faces. The portraits come alive with an asymmetry that McMaster hopes will reveal something about how we perceive ourselves.

"As I collected these drawings they started to reveal elements of the subject's self-concept, which might normally be hidden by protective masks or start to reveal the distortions of self-perception," she says. "I find that the way they express themselves in these blind drawings can tell a great deal about their personalities and identities.

"Surreal imagery allows me and hopefully the viewer to become lost within their own thoughts and transported out of ordinary life. Through this process of exploring the self my work unravels identity and subjectivity as something that is never complete, but always in process and formed from within."

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