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This is the largest painting that Tolmie has ever undertaken. Although its bold shapes, bright colours and freer technique give it a greater technical affinity with Chinatown Window II than Knights and White Satin, its subject matter explores the ideas on which the Window Series is founded: a female figure is replaced by a mannequin, who is again defined by her clothing. The myriad shiny, brightly coloured objects with which this mannequin will be surrounded encapsulate qualities of urban material culture: richly coloured, hard and smooth in texture, superficial. Holt Renfrew is a high-end department store in downtown Toronto, and the Christmas setting signals a time when western cultures self-consciously try to express relationships through commodities: time and place combine to represent the apex of consumerist culture. The Christmas theme also reveals the artist’s ongoing interest in human rituals, and Ice Queen demonstrates the contradictory meanings that such rituals can contain, festive but also sinister. The insect-like sprites are at once decorative and parasitic, combining gossamer wings with unearthly, skeletal bodies. The splendidly arrayed mannequin expresses the symbolic power of femininity enhanced by material culture, but it is also imprisoned by its decorations, at once significant and impotent; in this regard, The Ice Queen echoes sixteenth-century portraits of Elizabeth I, such as the famous panel (c. 1592) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (c. 1562-1636), in which the Queen stands upon a map of England, encased in a jewel-encrusted gown and head-dress so that only the face is visible.

Early in the painting’s composition, the artist completed the mannequin’s face. To his surprise, the features turned out to be those of his wife Ruth; without intending to, the artist created in this detail the most life-like portrait of her face that he has ever done. Such accidental portraiture is not uncommon in Tolmie’s work; artificial objects become real at the artist’s touch, and unintentionally come to express aspects of relationships in the artist’s life.

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