ANGELL GALLERY is pleased to present the first Toronto gallery exhibition by Montreal-based Sylvain Lessard. Titled Monuments, the exhibition runs from Saturday, September 7 to Saturday, October 5, 2019. The opening reception with the artist will be on Saturday, September 14 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Before 1990, hundreds of “spomeniks” once stood across the Balkan countryside. Built during the 1960s and 70s, and intended as non-partisan monuments to tragic events that occurred during the Second World War, their ‘neutral’ abstract designs aligned with the optimism and futuristic aesthetics of the times. When civil war overtook Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the spomeniks became targets of ire, and were vandalized or dismantled. At the time, the structures were seen as painful symbols of the national unity that failed to materialize after World War II.
While conducting research at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, artist and architect Sylvain Lessard discovered the spomeniks through the work of Antwerp-based photographer Jan Kempenaers, who, in 2006, started documenting those that remain. “I learned about Soviet war monuments in classes, but I’d never heard of these,” he says. “I liked how they were inspired by dreams of unity and how the architects approached them as artworks.”
When he first started painting, Lessard wanted to emulate the hard-edged abstraction of Guido Molinari, whose best-known works are composed of large blocks of colour. “They look easy to paint, but it’s really quite difficult,” says Lessard. “You have to be very aware of how colours interact with each other.”
Instead, Lessard takes Molinari’s colour blocks and turns them into ribbons, the curving and weaving of the lines suggesting Ethernet cables. While the paintings could be seen as re-visualizations of the spomeniks for digital-age audiences, this isn’t Lessard’s intention. “It’s just my painting style,” he says. “Breaking colour up into smaller components works better for me. Maybe this is my thinking as an architect. I want to bring architectural ideas about scale and relationships between planes to painting.”
Like buildings, Lessard’s paintings claim space. The forms wrap around the sides of the paintings’ edges, making them feel like objects. Lessard wants people to feel physical connections with his work, but he desires emotional ones, as well. “We’re not living in the most optimistic times,” he says. “When looking at these paintings, I want people to realize that such expressions of hope can be, and will be, possible again.” – Bill Clarke