When it comes to her creative output, award-winning Visual Arts professor Beth Stuart works in an expanding range of media including writing, painting, ceramics, performance, textiles and sculptural installations. Picking up on overlooked historical moments, as well as characters and material techniques, she creates alternative plot points in the narrative of modernist abstraction in order to examine the physical and metaphysical implications of dissolving the figure-ground relationship. 

Her newest public art sculpture is Les Tendresses, commissioned by La Banque Nationale du Canada and installed in the lobby of their Montreal headquarters at a cost of nearly $1 million. “Les Tendresses represent a playful offshoot of a longer artistic passage through the history of the relationships between architecture, garment construction, modernist abstraction, queer embodiment and feminist practice,” says Stuart. 

Les Tendresses offers three monumental sculptures that animate the architectural forms of three adjacent columns through a lively transformation of stone into the suggestion of clothed figures.  Each “posture” and “costume” is distinct from the others: one upright and elegant, one soft and flowing, one ornate and whimsical. The molded sculptures are made using a centuries-old architectural plaster technique called scagliola, which authentically imitates marble, creating a double trompe l’oeil: architecture come to life, and cloth turned to stone. 

Les Tendresses is inspired by the delight emerging from unexpected transformations of the inanimate into the animate; the hard into the seemingly soft; the inorganic into the organic. The sculptures introduce a playful distortion of regular geometries, contrasting the calm, sober look of the surrounding grey stone and concrete against bright, lively columns made of the same materials. This juxtaposition suggests a bridge between the architecture of the space and the humans who move through it — recognizing the role of individuals within the community and the capacity of the imagination to draw connections.