Cruel to be Kind/ Les plus beaux cauchemars: A reflection on women’s condition

Cruel to be Kind exhibition at Outremont Art Gallery. Photo by Maya Ruel / The Concordian.

Montreal artists use colours and various mediums to create a dream-like exhibition.

Jeanie Riddle and Delphine Hennelly, two Montreal-based painters, have taken over the Outremont Art Gallery from Nov. 8 until Jan. 7. The room hosting the artists’ exhibition, which is located inside the neighbourhood’s library, has undergone a complete transformation in order to showcase both women’s work. 

Jeanie Riddle completed her MFA in painting from Concordia in 2005. Her portfolio includes acrylic paintings on canvas and on paper, as well as sculptures made of various fabrics. Delphine Hennelly, for her part,  tends to make artwork which “addresses the human condition and prescribed gender roles,” according to her biography on the website of the Huxley-Parlour Gallery in London where her work was shown in February 2023. 

The gallery walls are covered in Riddle’s and Hennelly’s vivid artwork, and on top of the paint are hung portraits and pieces of their collection. The exhibition is called Cruel to be Kind or Les plus beaux cauchemars, which translates to “the most beautiful nightmares.”  This title feels very appropriate—upon entering the room, an aura of alternate reality becomes overwhelming, as if pacing inside a colourful dream. 

Cruel to be Kind exhibition at Outremont Art Gallery. Photo by Maya Ruel / The Concordian.

All in tones of pastel, the artwork presented at the gallery varies greatly in style from one piece to another. Riddle and Hennelly’s artistic styles and chosen mediums are very different. 

Hennelly finds much inspiration in art history and tapestries. She mostly creates vivid portraits which, even though she allows herself much creative freedom and steers away from realism, are still somewhat figurative. Women figures (though some have green skin) and outlines of human figures are easily distinguishable in her art. . 

Riddle’s artwork, in contrast, is much more abstract. She paints colorful shapes and uses fabric, such as scrunched up latex, to create unique pieces which could be associated with clouds. There are also a few pieces displayed in the middle of the room which resemble bags and have been dyed in tones of pastel. 

The encounter between both styles could have been difficult to digest, but somehow the artists’ work complete one another and are entangled brilliantly.

Cruel to be Kind is an exhibition with strong feminist undertones. All the human figures painted on the walls are women, and they are either smiling, holding the hand of a child, wearing hats and dresses, or are completely naked. 

Painting by Delphine Hennelly. Photo by Maya Ruel / The Concordian.

A painting hung on one of the walls has been created with only a few strokes of blue acrylic paint accompanied by a yellow line which has a shape of breasts. Another painting shows a woman, all dressed-up, holding a handkerchief to her face—alluding to the hardships of living in a patriarchal society. The antitheses in the title, “cruel” and “kind,” or in French, “beautiful” and “nightmare,”  correlate with the way women are treated and depicted in society—“both desired and despised,”  as per the artists. The colours used in the artwork are light and vibrant and give a pure feeling of femininity:  lots of warm pink, purple, light blue, and yellow.

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