New light at Parisian Laundry

Cult talks to artists Jennifer Lefort and Samuel Roy-Bois about their upcoming shows at Parisian Laundry.

Installation of Jennifer Lefort’s Beacons.

The Parisian Laundry’s year opens with a reflective look at vision through works that play with light and shadow. Abstract painter Jennifer Lefort’s solo exhibition Beacon (in colour) claims the main gallery, while installation artist Samuel Roy-Bois’s J’ai moonwalké, sans cesse, jusau’à l’épuisement occupies the bunker.

Lefort’s 12 large-scale paintings examine the theme of light through different and surprising lenses. Conveying the subject matter in her distinct, abstract style proved an exciting challenge for Lefort. “Light is a factor in most representational works  — the quality of light in landscapes and portraits. Light is an essential part of video and new-media work. Light can become so many things  — a communication, a signal, a feeling,” she explains. “I wanted to take this essential subject matter and explore it.”

Rather than painting obvious things – flashes, shadows, rainbows and luminosity  — Lefort turns light and colour into symbols and gestures. “Humans need to relate to and identify things,” she says. “But I don’t want tropes like rays, a perfect spectrum, shadow or shapes.”

Generally, Lefort’s paintings feature solid backgrounds populated with organic, globular forms. Multi-coloured and irregular lines burst across the openness and expanse of the canvas, as if driven by an inner momentum. The paintings read like snapshots of a microscopic world writ large  — mysterious and unpredictable, but pulsing with life and momentum. Lefort’s paintings breathe. They have emotion and energy that feels spontaneous.

“I create paintings with symbols and language that are neither of these things,” she says, noting that the work appeals to the viewer at a more primal level. “Colour is universal. Gesture is universal. Something that started as mine becomes someone else’s.”

She adds, “Abstract work requires a vulnerability in the viewer because it is less obvious. You have to open up a vulnerable side of yourself to let the work be the work.

“When it is successful, it is a beautiful, romantic exchange. You don’t need a certain pedigree.”

Roy-Bois takes on shadow with his offerings of an installation, a limited-edition catalogue and photographs.

“The pièce de résistance is this 6 x 24-foot space,” Roi-Bois says. “Inside is a bench and a door. On the other side of the door is a drum kit, and I invite people to come in and jam. All those frustrated drummers with no rehearsal space are welcome. People who come into the bunker space might be able to hear what is going on, even if they can’t see what is happening.”

“It’s a unique perspective,” he says, “Just a portion of things are visible.”

Roy-Bois is known for his altered environments. “Turning the gallery into a semi-private space switches the dynamic,” he says, “The public is no longer a viewer, but becomes the centre of the work.”

Just as the installation toys with the concept of the hidden, so too do Roy-Bois’ limited-edition catalogue and photographs. Matte black paint covers and obscures the original surface of both, leaving a mere hint of the contents underneath. “The viewer doesn’t know where it is or who it is, or if it makes sense or not. It can be very frustrating.”

The catalogue contains text that continues the theme of truth obscured by shadow. For example, one covers Roy-Bois’ experience working for an artist in New York who was moving his collection into a storage space shared with Sol LeWitt. “It’s partially true, and then it goes off,” he says.

Roi-Bois concludes, “It’s hard to be an artist, but also a great thing to be able to play with ideas this way. I can explore any ideas in any way I want. It’s scary and challenging on many levels, but I appreciate that fact more and more.” ■

Beacons (in colour) and J’ai moonwalké, sans cesse, jusau’à l’épuisement are on exhibit Jan. 16-Feb. 16. Vernissage Jan. 16, Parisian Laundry (3550 St-Antoine W.), 6-8 p.m., free

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