Canadian artist Robert Lemay, who has had 30 solo exhibitions and has several paintings on display in the Shaw Center gallery, concluded his weeklong residency here at Graceland this past Friday. Over the course of the week, Lemay worked on an original painting in the public space of the Helene Center Lobby where students, faculty, and guests alike could stop a while and watch him work. The slow, careful movements of his brush have had an interesting effect here at Graceland, as the usual pace of students hurrying to and from classes was interspersed with those who chose to stop and watch as Lemay worked.
On Wednesday, November 5, Lemay delivered an artist talk in the Shaw Center’s Carol Hall about still-life painting and his origin as a painter. One thing Lemay stressed during his talk was the how important it is for an artist, especially in a contemporary setting, to be able to trace their lineage. Whether it be through cultural roots or philosophical ideals, connecting oneself to history allows the artist to feel as though they are part of a continuum, and can help give their art a sense of direction. Lemay was able to look back at artists like Chuck Close, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Marcel Duchamp, and even all the way back to old masters such as Caravaggio in order to help him find the more realistic direction he eventually took for his art. Lemay found himself drawn to the tradition of still-life painting as he admired its apparent simplicity as well as its latent ability to be subversive. The idea that a turnip could be as worthy of depiction as a king was something that fascinated him.
Despite the realistic nature of his paintings, Lemay still allowed room for artistic interpretation and personal touches in his art. Lemay made the interesting argument that reality can change, both with time and perspective, and so Realism too must change accordingly. No two people will look at something in exactly the same way and two realist painters won’t depict an image in exactly the same way either. Vision and technique develop together and grow within an artist to create a unique touch that will bring a personal feel to a work of art even if the artist is attempting to be photo-realistic.
Lemay’s own style and imagery developed over many years where he experimented with multiple types of painting, including more abstract works. His current work has focused mainly on the use of flowers to explore the nature of light and shadow and how those two things affect the way we see the world. Lemay argues that the history of art is also the history of how we see, and Realism, in turn, is a celebration of that history. By making flowers his subject, Lemay is able to create an artistic style that is consistent with the history of Realism and still life while still leaving enough room for variation and experimentation.
For more information on the artist and his work you can go to http://robertlemay.com