Canadian painter Helen Gregory is serving as artist-in-residence at the Canadian Museum of Nature as part of her Ph.D program in at the University of Western Ontario. Since May, she has been exploring the museum’s collections, finding inspiration among the natural history specimens that inspire her work. A show of her work, dramatically titled Unrequited Death, is on exhibit at the museum in Ottawa, Ontario, until September 3.
Unrequited Death features eleven paintings that juxtapose biological specimens with ornate, romantic backgrounds reminiscent of the Victorian era. Among the pinned butterflies and dead birds, one stands out: the giant squid. It’s based on an actual specimen in the collection of The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s, where it was first shown in 2009. Let’s face it, it’s just not every day you see a 12-foot-long painting of a gigantic deceased cephalopod, so if you’re in Ottawa in the next few months, don’t miss this one.
Gregory uses painting to explore biological specimens both in relation to our knowledge of the natural world and our understanding of cultural meaning. “Objects are imbued with layers of meaning that shift with their context. For example when a dead bird is picked up, preserved, labeled, catalogued, and held in a museum collection, it becomes more than a biological specimen: it makes the transition from natural to cultural artifact,” she notes.