Monique Beauregard and Robert Lamarre: A Textile Collaboration, 1975-1995

By Gloria Lesser, 1995

This retrospective exhibition of 20 years of work is an opportunity to show mid-career accomplishment, and for Monique Beauregard and Robert Lamarre, to review and renew their aspirations. Beauregard and Lamarre: A Textile Collaboration, 1975-1995, is the first exhibition of contemporary printed functional textiles to be presented by The Museum for Textiles. It represents a coming of age for Beauregard and Lamarre and their joint studio enterprise, SÉRI+.

Printed fabrics have always been the underdog in the world of textiles used for fashion and furnishings, because they have generally been associated with mass production and lower-cost products than woven fabrics. Numerous monographs on ethnographic textiles of a specific country or locale have been published, and so have those on textiles of a particular printing process, such as toile de Jouy, batik, or copper-roller engraving. But even in survey texts, printed fabric occupies the margins of the field. A historic overview of Canadian or Quebec-specific textile screen printing within the factory system, or of studio printing, is not yet available. The study has not claimed the interest of scholars in the craft field, nor has commercial textile printing been of great interest to Canadian industrial design historians.

Commercial textile printing in Quebec has always been service-oriented. Basic mechanization of textile techniques took place in Europe and America between 1730 and 1830. Advances were made in yarn preparation, spinning, weaving, finishing and all areas of printing. The majority of inventions concentrated on increased speed of production, thereby reducing manual labour. Quebec textiles, survival-based to begin with, went from small craft factory to large industrial mill without time to properly develop craft-based block-printing expertise and traditions. As historic Quebec printing blocks apparently no longer exist, we are unable to study the iconography.

SÉRI+ came of age between Mayor Jean Drapeau's Expo 67 and the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Expo 67 was a euphoric event in Canadian industrial design; it consolidated concerted efforts to promote Canadian-designed merchandise by Design Canada (begun in 1947) and was comprised of manufacturers, designers and consumer groups. Design awards were given to winning contenders. While examples of contemporary printed or woven Canadian textiles (submitted to Design Canada) are stored in various archives, only the rare piece has claimed the attention of curators of historic shows of craft, art and design. In fact, hand-printed textiles as such are not yet seen as manifesting characteristics of Canadian identity as, for example, Quebec traditional functional textiles from the colonial to the industrial age. By the middle of the 20th century, the International style and the Scandinavian style had gained ground in Montreal's commercial sectors (and in most large Canadian cities), but no clear image of Canadian studio printing emerged to fit the ranch bungalows in suburbia into which these printed fabrics were surely meant to be installed.

In 1974 Beauregard and Lamarre united to create original textile designs, only to find a banal, secure industrial market operating with a rationale of its own (producing nondescript fabric), and closed to innovative designs proposed by freelance textile designers. In Canada, Dominion Textiles (Domtex) nearly monopolized textile design and manufacture. The printed textile industry in Quebec never had a regional design tradition, having originally been built up by British industrialists mostly to supply cheap consumer goods with copied patterns.

Designers - and by that time makers - Beauregard and Lamarre found their niche between industrial and hand-craft production by catering to a specific market as producers of original utilitarian yardage, printed in small quantities. They began printing cotton-coordinated kitchen and bedroom accessories in graphic large-scaled repeat, stylized or geometric patterns with companion patterns in three or four colourways, and some motifs with regional references to Quebec heritage crafts.

The products were sold mostly as finished goods through Bowrings and other Canadian retail outlets. Two hundred boutiques carried their lines via Beauregard and Lamarre's distributor, the Samaco Trading Company. And through Michael Scott's Ma Maison (located on Montreal's Beaver Hall Hill), bolts of fabric were retailed to make roman shades, fitted and tailored bedspreads, duvet covers, pillows, or roller blinds for contemporary rooms; where fabric in primary colours or earth tones made dominant statements alongside Quebec-designed contemporary furniture made of tubular metal and lacquered wood.For the first years of Beauregard and Lamarre's affiliation, SÉRI+ was also represented by fabric and wallpaper importer, Reveillon (now Crescendo), owned by Marie Lussier. SÉRI+ has since become a well known resource to the design trade, continuing to offer original hand prints, custom colouring, and commission work for designers. Their early work was made visible through the efforts of Ginette Gadoury's Décormag, a periodical promoting Quebec interior designers and products, which legitimized the field and made it accessible to taste arbiters.

In the 1970s, macramé, batik and tapestry were associated with youth counterculture, while the model for SÉRI+ was the highly successful printed fabrics for fashion and furnishing by the Finnish company, Marimekko Oy. Produced by Printex and Vuokko of Sweden, Marimekko was influential from the '60s to the mid-'70s. With their production of bold, over-scaled geometric patterns for fabric (used also as art in the home and work place), Marimekko put printed-cotton fabric in the vernacular. The next development trend would be “supergraphics” directly painted on the walls, and the exit of paintings in frames. Another feature of textile printing in the '70s was the advent of fashion designers such as Pierre Cardin, who designed bedding and towelling under license to international mills, thus tapping into a trendy market for the designer-signature to verify and validate the status of these easily identifiable goods.

Between the time of the fire in their Notre-Dame Street East studio in Old Montreal in 1978, and the beginning of the textile printing school they founded in 1985 (Centre de Recherche et de Design en Impression Textile de Montréal), the artists' careers blossomed. They were by now known as experts in the hand screening of textiles - the technology of choice for printing art fabrics. There were also frequent demands for their participation in conferences and juried competitions. The artists finally relocated to the Lachine Canal Complex in 1987, where they had expanded studio and office space to accommodate the growing registration of students and collegiate accreditation.

At the beginning of the 1980s, inroads into the market were made by Ikea, with well-designed household products in the best spirit of the Bauhaus and priced for the masses. In addition to Ikea, the advent of PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) vertical-louvred draperies, horizontal mini-blinds, and laminated louvres very nearly destroyed Beauregard and Lamarre's trade in fabrics for windows. These products severely undercut SÉRI+'s small-production pricing structure, and so the team changed directions to concentrate solely on artistic-production cloth.

At this critical juncture, Beauregard and Lamarre were influenced by the designs and marketing methods of the Memphis Group of designers, who exhibited all manner of decorative arts. Their first avant-garde collection was launched in 1981 with the witty, post-modernist textiles of Nathalie du Pasquier. In 1982, Beauregard and Lamarre showed their environmental design for windows and walls called Passage, in a model room in downtown Montreal's Eaton's department store, which at that time was an important venue for the dissemination of style.

Their studio production from the '80s has been characterized by radical experimentation with media and processes both historical and novel: using dyes, discharge and dévoré techniques for printing, and using computers to visualize concepts with emphasis on poetic values expressive of their own (or a client's) unique or corporate identity. In tandem with this professional production, which runs as a thread throughout their careers, are their unique “one-offs” - artistic statements in cloth and mixed media. SÉRI+ presents two or three new designs at specialty interior design shows such as Via Design (1983-1985), or the yearly Salon International du Design d'Intérieur de Montréal (SIDIM), begun in 1991. Beauregard and Lamarre's work is thus shown to the trade, in art and craft galleries, and in art museums.

A retrospective exhibition of Canadian textile printers is today, indeed an important event; however, only time will confirm if Monique Beauregard and Robert Lamarre are key agents in the development and sustenance of a particular Canadian textile community. The exclusive work of Monique Beauregard and Robert Lamarre reflects a Canadian regional dialect of contemporary international modernism.

© 2007 Textile Museum of Canada