John Boyle, Greg Curnoe and Joyce Wieland: Erotic Art and English Canadian Nationalism

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Purvis, Matthew




This dissertation concerns the relation between eroticism and nationalism in the work of a set of English Canadian artists in the mid-1960s-70s, namely John Boyle, Greg Curnoe, and Joyce Wieland. It contends that within their bodies of work there are ways of imagining nationalism and eroticism that are formally or conceptually interrelated, either by strategy or figuration, and at times indistinguishable. This was evident in the content of their work, in the models that they established for interpreting it and present in more and less overt forms in some of the ways of imagining an English Canadian nationalism that surrounded them. The three artists are contextualized in the terms of erotic art prevalent in the twentieth century and makes a case for them as part of a uniquely Canadian mode of decadence. Constructing my argument largely from the published and unpublished writing of the three subjects and how these played against their reception, I have attempted to elaborate their artistic models and processes, as well as their understandings of eroticism and nationalism, situating them within the discourses on English Canadian nationalism and its potentially morbid prospects. The artistic material discussed consistently revels in irony, negativity, sarcasm and parody, treating abstraction, politics, and pornography on exchangeable footing and frequently mocks or derides the sociological value of art while simultaneously positing itself as a nationalist art. For these three artists, nationalism was paradoxically conceived not so much as the affirmation of a living community but of its deadness, noting its irreality, celebrating its destruction, or satirizing whatever values it could claim. In Curnoe and Boyle, art was a radical materiality that denied any privilege to meaning or experience, denigrated the value of the viewer, perverted a rational sense of representation, effectively treating the subject as another machine for processing matter and refusing it narrative substance. Meanwhile, Wieland created a hyper-symbolic mode of imagining the world that derided the subject and their phenomenal life as little more than excrement and treated the symbol or stereotype as the vessel of a holy transcendent reality.


Art History




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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