Camp Fires: The Queer Baroque of Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu, and Richard Milette

November 6, 2015 - February 14, 2016

"...witty, polished, transgressive and oddly soulful." – The Seattle Times

Camp Fires explores the concept of "Camp" as manifested in the works of three important francophone Canadian ceramic artists: Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu, and Richard Milette. "Camp" has been identified as a concept, an aesthetic sensibility, and a form of oppositional critique central to gay and lesbian culture. Camp has been variously understood to include elements of irony, exaggeration, excess, humor, sentimentality, theatricality, artifice, parody, and devotion; as a disputed field of appropriation and counter-appropriation and of alternative signifying codes.

Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu, and Richard Milette have worked with themes of "Camp" and gay male experience in their art for more than three decades. Their shared perception that they are outside of the artistic and social mainstream has helped drive them to create an aesthetically powerful and intellectually engaging body of work that is rooted in and critical of conventional art history, ceramic history, and contemporary culture.

The exhibition presents a survey of the artists' work spanning their careers, including a consideration of their subversive historicism, their conceptual use of clay, and Queer identity and sexuality. Camp Fires deploys the concept of Camp, not as a fixed attribute of specific objects, but as an inherently political Queer signifying practice, strongly associated with performative identity and with subversive appropriation.


Richard Milette
Hydria 13-4165 with Hate, 1994
Ceramic and plaster. 40.5 x 41 X 31 cm.
Collection of the artist

Photo: Richard Milette



Léopold L. Foulem
Born in Caraquet, New Brunswick in 1945, Léopold L. Foulem received his M.F.A. from Indiana State University in 1988. He has received the Jean A. Chalmers National Crafts Award in 1999 and the Saidye Bronfman Award in 2001. He was the Bronfman's first recipient from the Atlantic Provinces. In 2003, he received a prix Éloizes, the prestigious Acadian cultural award. His work has been seen in over 40 solo and over 230 group exhibitions. His work is in 24 public collections on three continents.

Foulem is a world authority on Picasso's ceramic work, and has collected documentation on the subject over the past 25 years, with his research resulting in a number of publications. He is among the first Canadian ceramicists to have his work collected by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England, and by the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. His work combines playfulness and humour with an engagement of historic traditions, including classical Chinese, French, and pre-Columbian ceramics. His work bridges the space between popular culture and high art in a single leap.

His mentorship of Paul Mathieu and Richard Milette, and of the late Jeannot Blackburn, has created a legacy beyond his own substantial body of work.

Paul Mathieu
Born in 1954, Paul Mathieu received an M.F.A. from University of California at Los Angeles in 1987 and teaches at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. He has received many awards including the Grand Prix des Metiers d'Art in 1985, the Chalmers Award in Crafts in 2000, the Sadye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts, and the Governor General Award in Visual Arts in 2007. He is the author of Sexpots: Eroticism in Ceramics, published by A&C Black in England. It features erotic ceramics from the Neolithic period to today with an emphasis on the work of more than 100 international contemporary artists. He also edited the book The Art of the Future: 14 essays on Ceramics.

Mathieu has been artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre, the Tama Art Studios in Machida, Japan and the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemet, Hungary. He has made four separate stays at the San Bao International Ceramics Studio in Jingdezhen, China to research and realize new works.

His work is in numerous public collections including Musée du Québec, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Musée des Beaux-Arts both in Montreal, and the Gardiner Museum for Ceramic Art; Shigaraki in Japan; the Victoria & Albert Museum in England, and the L.A. County Art Museum in California.

Richard Milette
Born in Montreal in 1960, Richard Milette has work in public collections in Canada and the United States including the Canada Council Art Bank, Burlington Cultural Centre, Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, the Gardiner Museum, the Musée du Québec, and the Royal Ontario Museum; the Allan Chasanoff Collection (North Carolina), the Racine Art Museum (Wisconsin), and the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art (Alfred New York). His work has been seen in exhibitions in Montreal, Quebec City, London (Ontario), Toronto, Philadelphia, Scottsdale, and New York.

Milette juggles different eras and genres from the history of ceramics, undermining the utility of conventional forms.


Camp Fires: The Queer Baroque of Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu and Richard Milette is organized by the Gardiner Museum, Toronto and curated by Robin Metcalfe. This project is supported by the Museum Assistance Program at Canadian Heritage. The local presentation of this exhibition is curated by Stefano Catalani and sponsored by Scott Erickson.
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