By Timothy Chang
Textiles is an on-going theme in the art of Vancouver-based artist Lyse Lemieux, encompassing her painting, sculpture, and installation. The practice of adorning ourselves in textiles is unique to us as human beings and shared globally across cultures. Similarly, clothing gives us a sense of identity and brings individuals together as a group. Yet, clothing is too often used to discriminate and set individuals or groups apart from the other. Another aspect of separation is also present in clothing’s utilitarian use as it shields us from the natural world. However, from a sociological perspective, and perhaps with more prominent effect, clothing also shields the self with a constructed image.
In Lyse Lemieux’s 2022 White Gloves Gants Blancs, a meticulously depicted pair of white lace gloves is prominently featured in the painting. The motif of white gloves is associated with high society, formality, or attention to detail. The sense of grandeur is further illustrated in the eye-catching gold embellishments on the figure’s dress. While the elaborate attire appears glamorous and appealing, the perception is challenged by awkward proportions and semi-abstract representation. Furthermore, the exaggerated hands and fingers remove any sense of functionality with the white gloves. The garments’ presence over the hands also inhibits the sense of touch, and thereby distorts the figure’s perception of the world. In Lemieux’s artistic practice, she is constantly exploring the individual’s relationship with society and the contradictions that lie within. Like the fabric used in her installations, her paintings are intricately woven with ideas and mediations, where she deconstructs social norms and highlights its beauty as well as strangeness.
A common theme in Lyse Lemieux’s latest works is the presence of strange figures that bare loose resemblance to human beings. In both Hiatus and Tree Figures, the figures stand upright and appear to have bipedal appendages capable of walking. In Sans Titre (Jambes), although the number of appendages grows disproportionately high, the figure nonetheless bares human-like facial features, depicted clearly in profile view. Yet, in all three paintings, the figures are fundamentally non-human. Instead, they appear as fantastical beings akin to mythological creatures.
Lyse Lemieux, Hiatus, 2022 © Lyse Lemieux. Photo: Rachel Topham
What captivates the viewer’s eyes in Lyse Lemieux’s latest works is the apparent strangeness of the image. In Sans Titre (Jambes), a figure is comprised of six or seven leg-like appendages of various shapes and sizes. The top of the figure features a head in profile raised slightly towards the left, while a full face with squinted eyes protrudes jarringly to the right. Although the figure’s anatomy is puzzling, the symbolism provides clear insight into the mind of the artist.
Lyse Lemieux, Sans Titre (Jambes), 2022 © Lyse Lemieux. Photo: Rachel Topham