Wieland, Joyce (1931–1998)

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Wieland, Joyce (1931–1998)

Canadian director who built a reputation as an artist working with mixed media, conveying statements about women, the environment and Canada . Born on June 30, 1931, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; died on June 27, 1998, in Toronto; educated at Central Technical Vocational High School in Toronto; married Michael Snow (an artist), in 1957 (divorced).

Joyce Wieland gained a reputation throughout Canada as a visionary artist who inspired women to pursue public recognition as professional artists in their own right. Born in Toronto in 1931, she was educated at that city's vocational high school, graduating in the mid-1950s to pursue a profession in the arts. Her first job was as an animator for Graphic Films, a position she held from 1955 to 1956. In 1957, Wieland married fellow artist Michael Snow, with whom she worked on numerous film projects throughout the remainder of the decade while also pursuing a variety of other creative projects.

When Toronto developed into a leading Canadian art center in the late 1950s and 1960s, Wieland became the only woman to achieve artistic prominence among the new group of Canadian painters influenced by Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Wieland funneled a good deal of her artistic vision into the medium of painting, producing a significant body of work in the process. Many of these works, presented in a distinctive abstract language on a large scale, conveyed sexual imagery from the viewpoint of women, a perspective most other artists would not pursue for several more years. In addition to her painting, Wieland produced a number of mixed-media assemblages and began making quilts in collaboration with her sister Joan Stewart and others.

Together with Snow, Wieland relocated to New York City in the early 1960s, and built a reputation as one of a group of experimental filmmakers who contributed to the creation of an avant-garde film style. She became friendly with many members of the underground film community, a group whose bohemian behavior and outrageously styled home movies were gaining increasing notoriety. The cinematic style that evolved out of several underground filmmakers' works became known by the late 1960s as "structural film," which paralleled painterly developments in minimal art and received international recognition as the new radical forefront of avant-garde film.

Influenced by underground filmmakers Harry Smith, Ken Jacobs, and George Kuchar, Wieland began making short, personal films, and her movies were soon included in the group's regular Greenwich Village screenings. Wieland's films formally investigate the limitations and shared properties of several media while they developed increasingly pointed themes regarding Canadian nationalism and feminism. Successful Wieland films of the 1960s included Patriotism, Part II (1964), in which she depicted hot dogs marching in unison to a John Philip Sousa song; Rat Life and Diet in North America (1968), which provides a sympathetic view of the flight of American draft dodgers into Canada, using gerbils as stand-ins for the draft protesters and menacing cats as their establishment jailers; and Reason Over Passion/La Raison Avant la Passion (1969), a heartfelt declaration of her commitment to Canadian nationalism. This was the first of several cinematic efforts produced by the artist that would take Canadian political and social issues as their subjects. Wieland's films—often grouped and discussed along with those by such other structural filmmakers as Snow, Jacobs, Hollis Frampton, and Ernie Gehr—played at museums, film festivals, and colleges in Europe and North America.

Wieland reveled in the low-key atmosphere of New York's underground film community—a marked contrast to the fiercely competitive nature of the city's established art world—but by 1970 she found that even there she was discriminated against because of her gender. Her film Reason Over Passion, a longer and more ambitious effort than her earlier films, received a decidedly cold reception from her colleagues. "I was made to feel in no uncertain terms by a few male filmmakers that I had overstepped my place, that in New York my place was making little films," she later told Kay Armatage in an interview for Take One.

By 1971 Wieland had returned to Toronto, where she was honored as the first woman to be featured in a solo exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. That exhibit, "True Patriot Love/ Veritable Amour patriotique," included Wieland's paintings, sculpture, and a collection of quilts embroidered with the motto "Reason over Passion," made famous by Canada's then-president Pierre Trudeau. The publicity Wieland received in the wake of her groundbreaking solo exhibition served to inspire other Canadian women to take their artistic endeavors seriously, a movement that the artist herself actively encouraged in the many published interviews that followed the exhibit. During the 1970s and 1980s her varied works became increasingly associated with issues of Canadian identity, feminism, and the environment. Wieland worked primarily in paints and colored pencils, producing such memorable works as the mystical pencil drawing The one above waits for those below (1981) and the horrific and arresting Experiment with Life (1983).

Wieland did not abandon her filmmaking with her return to her homeland, however; she completed two additional short structural documentaries, Pierre Vallières, about a French-Canadian revolutionary and the problems between French and English Canada, and Solidarity, about a labor strike at an Ontario factory whose workers were mostly women. At the same time, Wieland co-wrote, co-produced, and directed a theatrical feature-length film, TheFar Shore, a romantic melodrama about a French-Canadian woman whose failing marriage to a stuffy Toronto bourgeois results in her liberating affair with a Canadian painter. While she continued to produce artworks in a variety of media throughout the 1970s, The Far Shore signaled the end of Wieland's filmmaking career. Wieland, considered one of Canada's most significant 20th-century artists, had her career cut short by Alzheimer's disease. After living under the care of her family for several years, she was finally removed to a Toronto nursing home and passed away in June 1998, three days before her 67th birthday.


The Day [New London, CT]. June 30, 1998.

Hillstrom, Laurie Collier, and Kevin Hillstrom, eds. Contemporary Women Artists. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1999.

Unterburger, Amy L., ed. Women Filmmakers & Their Films. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1998.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut,

Kevin Hillstrom for Contemporary Women Artists,

and Lauren Ravinovitz for Women Filmmakers & Their Films

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