Jean-Paul Lemieux, self-portrait, detail, 1974
Although in his earlier years Lemieux experimented with a variety of styles – a cubist influence for example -, he soon developed his own visual lexicon and remained faithful to it till the end.
With enormous sensitivity, this, one the greatest Quebec and Canadian painters, has opened the doors to the inner world of his city, of his people, of himself. They are no monuments, no great landscapes, no complex compositions, no famous faces in his paintings. But like with Modigliani, the art of Jean-Paul Lemieux speaks of the world within, and the quiet beauty of a human being.
“I am especially interested in conveying the solitude of man and the ever-flowing passage of time. I try to express this silence in which we all move”.
Although greatly honoured during his lifetime, both as an artist, an illustrator, and as teacher, with many exhibitions to his credit, including a retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1969, the year he was named Companion of the Order of Canada, he did not live to see his greatest exhibition organized by the Musée de Québec in 1990. He died just before its opening at the age of eighty-six.
Jean-Paul Lemieux painted his inner world, and left us with a legacy of paintings that speak of loneliness and melancholy. Yet, despite their often-desolate landscapes and silent figures, it is a world of deep emotions and profound reflection, not only on the human lot, but on the quality of light, the delicate outline of the horizon, the colour of ice.
“I paint because I like to paint”, Lemieux said in 1967. “I have no theories. In my landscapes and my characters I try to express the solitude we all have to live with, and in each painting, the inner world of my memories. My external surroundings only interest me because the allow me to paint my inner world”.
The simple explanation belies the effect those silent paintings have on a viewer. They place the Quebec artist from his contemporaries, and he has met many while studying in Montreal and Paris, great painters and sculptors like Edwin Holgate of the Group of Seven, and Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté. He worked alongside artists who flocked in the 1930s to the picturesque, albeit poor, Charlevoix region, and although, like the others – with the exception of Jori Smith, who chose to paint the people, and children in particular -, he painted landscapes, his were of a different ilk.
SUBJECT / THEMES
Inspired by the quotidian, this soft-spoken, gentle man, worked indoors, eschewing models. The visions came to life from a very different source, transformed, enhanced by his imagination and sensitivity forming vast quiet expanses of fields covered with flowers, of still waters, of great sweeps of ice just a tone lighter than the sky above. Punctuating this static composition are solitary human figures. Even when in groups, they are apart, each encapsulated within his or her own reverie.
It is understanding of the human nature with its frailties, that makes these paintings so accessible, and Lemieux so beloved by the people. The edges are never sharp, the colours never too bright, the palette is in dialogue with the subject matter in all of Lemieux’s works, and underlying it all is hope.
From a text by Dorota Kozinska for Galerie Valentin
“Jean-Paul Lemieux. Retrospective exhibition. Works from 1956 to 1979” September 12 to 26, 2009, Galerie Valentin