Robert Lemay: GRID exhibition catalogue 2016

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Š 2016 the contributors and Wallace Galleries ltd. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the gallery. Director Heidi Hubner Editor Colette Hubner Design Brita Thomas PHOTO CREDITS All photographs courtesy of the artist.


7 - 18 May 2016


WALLACE GALLERIES 100, 500 5th Avenue SW | Calgary AB T2P 3L5 | 403.262.8050




Robert Lemay 2016


At first glance, the new work seems a departure from the tabletop still lifes for which Robert Lemay is known. In fact, the work extends and elaborates the artist’s practices and concerns from the beginning of his career. The depiction of magazine covers, and lately, fashion images in general, have evolved from the artist’s series of book still lifes. But instead of old leather bound volumes, he is exploring a new vanitas image – the fashion magazine. Supermodels and celebrities are re-examined and reconstructed on canvas. The artist unites the tradition of oil on canvas portraiture with the mass media images of today. This new work can be seen as a kind of pop realism. The gridded photograph has always served as the basis for Lemay’s paintings, but in the recent work, the penciled grid has been left, exposed, as he creates the image square by square, row by row, leaving traces of the substructure. This creates a tension between the realism of the image and the abstraction of the grid, underscoring the digital source. The floral pieces, based on Lemay’s own photographs, serve as a counterpoint to the famous subjects found in his magazine depictions, but also reference the vanitas or memento mori tradition of still life which have always been at the center of his art. His true subject is the passage of time – whether expressed through the faded flower, or the 80s supermodel. The work validates women’s interest in the art of fashion, the daily rituals of make-up and dressing, and the modes of forming identity via ap-

pearance. In this way, the artist continues still life’s tendency to ‘look at the overlooked’ as Norman Bryson put it, and to look at the personal rituals of people, rather than the grand historical moment. The use of found photographs echoes the work of Warhol and Richter who used photographs from mass media as a basis for some of their work. Lemay has stated that he realizes photos themselves are still life objects, whatever their subject or authorship, and therefore are a legitimate subject for exploration in oil paint. The squares of Lemay’s grid produce a slightly pixelated look which echoes the faceting of Cezanne, who is describing discreet planes of space in his work. The counterbalance of a conventional realism with the surprise of breaking down the image, and then re-forming it square by square creates a satisfying viewing experience. The digital effect is almost incidental, but nevertheless creates a visual hum in the slightly off-register disjunctions of the paintings.



previous page: Pomegranates oil on canvas 30” x 48”

Brad Pitt oil on canvas 30” x 24”


Marion Cotillard oil on canvas 30” x 24”


Yellow and Red Tulip oil on canvas 48” x 30”


Cheryl Cole oil on canvas 24” x 24”


Tatjana Patitz oil on canvas 40” x 30”



Garden Roses oil on canvas 40” x 60”

Q&A with Robert Lemay

by Colette Hubner, director of Wallace Galleries


Who would you say are your influences in your life and career that have inspired you in your art? I was fortunate in that early in my career, I was able to show in galleries. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without the art dealers with whom I have ongoing relationships, and their clients. This was not only good for my confidence but allowed me to develop and grow by practicing painting everyday. In my early days, I was a keen reader of history and biography and my inspiration is anyone who doesn’t give up easily. What draws you to the subject matter you choose? I’m attracted to things with dramatic shadows and the illusion of the third dimension. Perhaps my early exposure to Leonardo and Michelangelo, the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt and Velasquez, and the clarity of classical architecture formed my vision. I always responded to still life. The ability to experiment with different shapes, colours, textures and space is part of the pull, but the real attraction is that still life objects speak about the absence of people, they sometimes act as stand-ins for humans. They have been touched by human hands, are made or cultivated by them, and the compositions have been arranged by them. This seems to connect to something in my makeup – the idea of an absent being represented by an object. My magazine images are extensions of this because they are still life objects which happen to have people on their covers.

Why art? I think the function of art is to help clarify, distil, and concentrate human experience and help make sense of our interactions with the world in which we find ourselves. To unite our internal monologue with our outside experience. So, art is a parallel to life, which helps us understand and feel more deeply and with more understanding. For me, art is the most compelling path. It’s how I come to terms with existing and I modestly hope to shed some light on how we see the things we see every day. I’m endlessly fascinated by this rather old medium of oil paint and what we can still learn about ourselves by mixing this coloured mud and applying it to a flat canvas surface. Imperfection is something society seems fixated on. Is this an aspect you are commenting on with your art? Vanitas still lifes from the Baroque era were generally very elaborate pieces featuring heaps of costly items, fabrics, carpets, glassware, food, gold and silver. These, paradoxically, were supposed to remind viewers of the vanity of earthly desires and success in the face of the inevitability of mortality. The paintings acted as a display of prosperity and perhaps as a talisman for the continuance of wealth. But they’re also full of reminders of the passing of time and the fleetingness of beauty – a fly will be sitting on a piece of bruised fruit, a beautiful goblet will be perched precariously on a table’s edge, a glass will be shattered, a flower will be faded or wilting. In considering the ephemeral fashion magazine as a still life object, it’s possible to think of it in the same terms as we’ve looked at these traditional compositions. I hope to raise similar questions about our relationship to luxury goods, fashion, and those things and people we consider to be beautiful. What do we value? What are our desires? And when we look at these objects in a still life or the clothes adorning a model or celebrity in a magazine, we might ask, who is it for? Where did it come from and how?



Kate Moss oil on canvas 20” x 16”


Paulina Porizkova oil on canvas 30” x 24”

the SAPs



left: Sunflowers oil on canvas 40” x 60”


Elizabeth Taylor oil on canvas 20” x 16”

Amber Valletta oil on canvas 30” x 24”





Jil Sander oil on canvas 36” x 24”



Hoop Earrings oil on canvas 16” x 16”



Dior oil on canvas 48” x 30”

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