Winnie Truong


Winnie Truong: Sugoi (2011): Pencil crayon on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Images courtesy the artist and Erin Stump Projects, Toronto.Winnie Truong: Sugoi (2011): Pencil crayon on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Images courtesy the artist and Erin Stump Projects, Toronto.

By Carolyn Tripp

Winnie Truong
Erin Stump Projects
September 8 – October 2, 2011

Continuing the dialogue with freakishness and physical anomalies she began in her 2010 show, Hirsutus, Toronto-based Winnie Truong expanded her portraits of outsiders in The Fringes, her most recent show.

The double meaning of the exhibition’s title is made evident in the work, as it references both hairstyles and being on the edge of societal norms. Truong also draws inspiration from a forbidden territory found in John Wyndham’s 1955 sci-fi novel The Chrysalids, where physical anomalies are considered “abominations.” Through the idea of hair being a physical extension and representative of one’s personality, Truong displays the peculiarities of a group of the colony’s would-be inhabitants.

The hair depicted in each large-scale drawing is braided, teased, wrapped and used as a veil to either disguise or distinguish each character. Many characters appear to lose themselves in their hair as though they are drowning in it – some faces are completely obscured – or using it as some kind of habitation or bedding. The locks simultaneously bury and comfort them. This alludes to the “freakishness” that we cannot see, increasing the intrigue of what lies underneath.

Winnie Truong: Hollow Comfort (2011): Pencil crayon on paper, 44 x 30 inches.Winnie Truong: Hollow Comfort (2011): Pencil crayon on paper, 44 x 30 inches.The series also holds a great similarity to documentation and use of the “freak” in early-20th Century circus sideshows. As the bright pencil-crayon colours twist around the faces and bodies, the abnormalities here appear to be the copious amount hair, as though these subjects are the descendants of Bearded Ladies from carnivals past.

Truong’s work also possesses a strong illustrative edge, bringing to mind the precision of Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. The lines etched into the faces of Truong's subjects in works such as “Vainglorious” (all works 2011), which was also made available in a print edition, and “Is an Unkind Mistress” appear as shadows of unkempt facial hair, but also retain a contemporary appeal through Truong’s comic-book-style hatching technique.

Beauty is also a word to describe the rendering as much as the characters themselves, though a definite dichotomy exists in consideration of their individual predicaments. Delving into fashionable traits, with the hair being electric blue, purple or green, Truong presents the idea of straddling ideals. Our own prejudices can be considered when viewing the work, and the idea that if these characters are trying to be outcasts, then they do it with a grace that belies the imposition.

These characters exist as solitary studies – not in the group setting of a circus freak show or a commune of abnormals. However much these portraits have in common, they stand alone, punctuating the confinement that their unusual characteristics have afforded them. Quintessentially “alone together,” these portraits may reference the idea of a colony – and when I think of that, I think of Mel Lyman’s cult-style family portraiture – but are much less so than they are studies of people hiding in their separate corners. As a result, Truong’s portraits are as melancholy as they are beautiful.

Carolyn TrippCarolyn Tripp is a Toronto-based artist and writer whose work has been featured at the Contact Photography Festival (Contacting Toronto), the Gladstone Hotel (upArt), the Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1 and the Toronto Urban Film Festival. She has been published in Eye Weekly, Broken Pencil, and Spacing and C magazines.