Whittome, Irene F.

Irene F. Whittome, artist (b at Vancouver on 5 March 1942). Irene Whittome attended the Vancouver School of Art, studying under painter Jack Shadbolt. In Paris from 1963 to 1967, she studied with the engraver W. Stanley Hayter. On her return to Canada, she settled in Montréal to teach at Concordia University. Her works, including prints and mixed media from this period developed themes related to the eye, boxes, and the unity of found objects with precise yet repeated gestures.

Irene Whittome's art later developed a concern with spatial structures, as illustrated in the series of sculptures Le Musée blanc (1975). These works consisted of elongated forms made from paper twisted into ropes and placed in boxes. The series marked a leap in Whittome's development: the totemic rows striving to appropriate space, their formal repetition paradoxically questing for uniqueness.

Themes about collections and museums recurred in her work subsequent to her solo exhibition at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1980, themes that she revisited in Le Musée des traces (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario 1987-1989). In Paperworks (1977) and Vancouver (1977-80), she produced reliefs and sculptures with hand-made paper, other highly-coloured materials, wax, on objects which conveyed rhythm (needles, for example) on surfaces that generated unity (such as tables of algorithms).

She has produced several installations. The first, Model One-Work at School/Classroom 208, was mounted at Project Studio One (New York, 1979), followed by Saint-Alexandre (1980-1982), Individuelle Mythologien (1985) and Creativity/ Fertility (1987). These pieces, which integrated photography with drawing, explored the relations between cognition and universal symbolism.

Since 1986, Irene Whittome has transformed the figure of the tortoise - whether standing still or in motion - into a metaphor for both the artist and imaginative archetypes. This creature has been featured in such installations as Illuminati (Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, 1987), Shamash (Power Plant, Toronto, 1988), Ho T'u (La Rochelle's Museum of Natural History), Le Musée des traces and Curio: Fantaisie-Fantasia-Fancy-Phantasterien (1994).

Irene Whittome has been given public commissions (Hakone, Japan and Calgary) and in 1991 was awarded the Victor-Martyn-Staunton Prize. In 1992, she received an award from the Gershon-Iskowitz Foundation. In 1997 she was awarded Québec's Prix Paul Émile Borduas and in 2002 she received a Governor General's Visual and Media Arts Award. A major retrospective of her work was organized in 2000 at the Musée de Québec. In 2005 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.