_ les petits géants québécois. l'exposition destinées de louis boudreault _
_ by Adèle Arseneau, in Le Radar
_ plein la vue _
_ by Lucie Lavigne, in La Presse
_ voyage en Italie, mais de Montréal _
_ by Lio Kiefer, in Le Devoir
_ voyage en Italie, mais de Montréal _
_ by Lio Kiefer, in Le Devoir
_ l'histoire dans des yeux d'enfants _
_ by Caroline Montpetit, in Le Devoir
_ dessine-moi saint-ex _
by isabelle grégoire, in L'Actualité, Montréal, May 15, 2011: 82-84.
_ louis boudreault expose à paris _
_ gouvernement du québec en france
_ art et justification _
by gilles matte, in Traces Magazine: Journal culturel des Laurentides, June 29, 2009.
_ louis boudreault, painting, nature and flowers in particular _
by gérard xuriguera, published in Cimaise Present Day Art
_ l'homme qui plantait des âmes _
by lio kiefer, published in Le Devoir
_ le coeur à marée basse _
by lio kiefer, published in Le Devoir
_ in numinous chorus: the auratic portraits of louis boudreault _
by james d. campbell
When we speak of Nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of Nature. We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.
Why speak of painting, again? And why write about it? To say what in the end can never have been completely, exhaustively, said; to say just part of it, to retraverse a slice of time in which that painting came back like a haunting enigma, a problem, a question; to keep the “minutes” of that traversal, to stockpile the readings done, questioned, revisited, inexhaustible; to produce dazzling, sometimes patient, often inadequate traces of these readings.
-- Louis Marin
I. Rethinking Representation
Think of Louis Boudreault as the gifted inventor of the visual arts equivalent of an audiophile’s turntable, the ne plus ultra, say the Continuum Caliburn. But one designed to play its subject’s music backwards, rather than forwards, through time. This painter rolls back the decades his subjects have lived, and discovers in so doing something like their inviolable essence, vital personality, innermost traits. Also, their pain, still in its kernel, as yet undecanted – and, perhaps most importantly, the incandescent promise held tremulously within them like an anfractuous seed that will one day sprout in the lifeworld like none other.
Through the quartzite prism of a truly implacable and sophisticated optic, Boudreault makes it possible for our memories of the subjects of his paintings to likewise speak, and eloquently too, of prior acquaintance, admiration, respect, affection, longing, even unrequited love. He encourages us to distinguish the features of his subject’s younger from older selves, living from dead, celebrities we have known well from those we have almost forgotten. In young faces, we glimpse a trajectory very much our own, a perilous transit from innocence to wisdom and back again.
Boudreault has a gift not only for remembering and rendering faces, but for redeeming them from the temporality that is theirs’ to claim as a function of aging. How he achieves this temporal reversion has a lot to do with his optic, one that sees human beings as interwoven with the myriad patterns of the world. He knows that we are all, as Matisse said, part of Nature and that this truth should never be forgotten. He takes Matisse’s instruction to heart – and mind: “We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.”
Such curiosity is profoundly philosophical in nature. But Boudreault thinks with his optic. And while the lips of his subjects may be closed, open or moving in mute speech, as Vladimir Nabokov once held of his own remembered and cherished ones, their eyes are wide open. (1) In the deep, dark and seemingly bottomless well of those eyes, there is a supplication less theirs than our own, as we immerse ourselves therein with alacrity and are moved and freshened by sundry memories provoked and recognitions pursued.
Boudreault is a rare savant at conjuring up truth and authenticity from portraits that practice a retroactive art of mnemonic seizure and commemoration, even memorialisation, even though the latter is never their raison d’etre. Still one commemorates what one covets, and his pantheon of celebrities whets our covetousness.
Just as one desires a first edition book signed by its author, or a photograph of someone revered signed by its subject, Boudreault’s portraits possess such phenomenal virtuosity that we want to experience them firsthand, at close quarters and forever after.
His is also an art of serene investiture of self and aura-laden restoration. He speaks to our collective memory, which then in its turn speaks of the changes wrought by time -- nameless violence, psychic ruptures and physical attrition – and proceeds to specify what, with a consummately delicate brush or iron, remains the same and what has undergone chameleon-like transformation as we identify his young subjects for ourselves with a slow dawning recognition. Boudreault reminds us that memory is never static, and seldom effaced.
As we connect the dots between their childhoods and their adult lives, as we leaf through the thick mnemonic photo albums we all carry around inside our heads of the notables amongst us, whether it be Andy Warhol or Marguerite Duras, Winston Churchill, Chairman Mao or Francis Bacon, Boudreault summons them up, calls them forth from the dewy, idyllic meadowlands of their youth, and spurs a recognition that returns us knowingly to the archeo-psychic past, embedded memories and the ground of the figure itself.
I say ‘iron’ as in ‘clothing iron’ in addition to brush because the level of formal invention in Boudreault’s practice is very high, and stimulatingly so, and the iron is his signature instrument rather than traditional brush and paint can. To see him ‘ironing’ down fragments of handmade paper onto his pressed palimpsest over gessoed hardboard rather than simply daubing there, is to appreciate the sheer radicality – and the high stakes -- in achieving his paintings as wholly unified, totally unforeseen things. He builds his palimpsests from the ground floor on up like a gifted carpenter or dry mason: a bare wood substructure is the support onto which myriad papers are ironed down onto the plane, resulting in a support rich with the stored labours of his thoughts and activities, with multiple epidermal strata that waylay all the voices of time. The applied charcoal then delineates forms, which are subsequently transformed into the outer epidermis – the breathing skin – of the portrait proper. A portrait by Boudreault is more than a portrait. It is a paradigm not only of what is in mind to say about that Other whose face is so familiar to us -- but also a paradigm of the process dimension, the much-vaunted act of making, where expression assumes physicality. Process reigns supreme here.
If Boudreault’s paintings achieve real presence and immanence and stake a singular claim upon us as a result, it is because he amplifies the auratic volume of his portraits not just through random acts of accretion – but methodically through acts of consistent and radical subtraction. This rethinking of representational codes in his manifestly reductive art evokes and works through an aesthetic of absence. In spite of the perceived thickness of the support – a lovely mirage, really, or red herring since the sheer depth of the palimpsest is only literal around the edges of the wood support – Boudreault methodologically eliminates any detail, figural or colouristic – that might yield an extraneous effect or a baroque accent.
As French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy wrote:
“The entire history of representation -- that entire fevered history of the gigantomachies of mimesis, of the image, of perception, of the object and the scientific law, of the spectacle of art, of political representation – is thus traversed by the fissure of absence, which, in effect, divides into the absence of the thing (problematic of its reproduction) and the absence within the thing (the problematic of its [re]presentation). (2)
Beyond this relevance to the history of representation, the absence here is binary – it works on both the material level of literally pairing down and the metaphorical level of invoking not only absent time but the literal absence of his subjects. They are now embedded in our collective cultural memory, and our affection for them and attention to them stems from our own memories of their person, their reputation -- and their works. This lends poignancy to the experience of these paintings, and the work deepens as a result. Not into a dimension of sentimentality, but into a sense of loss that has nothing to do with commemoration per se.
Boudreault works in a vein of progressive erasure, of winnowing down, deliberate elision, followed by delicate feints and parries of mark making on the way back up to the ground plane of representation. The colours of the collaged papers themselves inflect the backdrop and deliver his figures into the foreground of our attention, our focus. Yes, Boudreault’s is a reductive art. I have never seen one of his portraits fatten into baroque shapes, or fall into an array of overwrought forms. One is often reminded of the faces in Pontormo’s Visitation (Parish Church of Carmignano, Tuscany). The eyes seem to gaze out at us, into us, through us, timeless and undesiring, unavoidable in their interiority and understated intensity, at once transparent and opaque, not quite human and yet wholly human.
As Jean-Luc Nancy argued: “Painting goes straight to the heart of the matter, that is, of the mystery. It does not remove or resolve this mystery, nor does it make it an object of belief; rather it implants itself within it, so to speak.” (3)
So, too, Boudreault implants in his viewers an appreciation of embodiment and history, something that is less nostalgia than a commemorative urge, and the attrition of time. He unpeels the temporal whirligig around his subjects like an onion, decanting something like truth. Of course, in a Boudreault painting, we do not have the “convolution and tumult of cloth rippling with folds, sinuousities and billowing curves” that Nancy speaks of in Pontormo (this would be too baroque, too much figural action painting for him) but we do still have the mystery – and we have, of course, the eyes. (4) The eyes have it.
We also have a vast imperturbable calm together with a strange excitement or, better, fascination. And that is more than enough. The eyes seize us and see through us. They are prehensile, those eyes, as prehensile as a chimpanzee’s thumb, and just as telling. They have us from the outset, from the first instant of seeing, such is their almost-photographic hyper-verisimilitude – and hold us in their thrall, effortlessly. The eyes are the same respectively in the works of Pontormo and Louis Boudreault. They are the eyes of a child, yes, a young person even, but if the eye never changes from birth until death, they also betray the full spectrum of a life yet to be lived. They are the talismanic harbingers of all that is yet to be.
II. Resonant Facture
The aspect of making is central to Boudreault’s portraiture.
He first prepares a wood panel with either of these measurements: 6’ x 4’ or 7’ x 5’ (although he occasionally makes smaller paintings). He then covers this panel with drawing paper. Tonalities must range from white to off-white. Boudreault begins with an elaborate drawing (a decisive step which can take several days) and he then constructs a costume, using coloured sheets of paper. He proceeds to methodically create an environment that surrounds the subject, using stains, lines and sanding.
He encloses the work within the panel's vertical sides by affixing several layers of paper strips to its left and right sides. These convey the impression that the artwork is glued onto an accumulation of sheets, all of which are secured by steel fasteners. This duplicity
lends the work the sense of a vast sheaf of former lives. In one sense, there is a similarity to the multiple coats that build physicality and chromatic depth in the painting of a monochrome. But Boudreault’s paintings are the furthest things imaginable from monochromes. The thick dimensionality yields the sense of a life lived, endlessly receding memories and days past,
The works are then signed, titled and (if necessary) dedicated at the back.
Let us retrace stages in the facture, with an eye to opening up the painting. There is simulation here – and a spectacular order of dissimulation as well. There is no accumulation of sheets as such, but there is palimpsest. The palimpsest is the bulk of collaged-on sheets of coloured and neutral coloured paper, decoupage-like, which while it lacks the “thickness” that we have been tricked into believing lies beneath, is still highly resonant of an environment that is overwhelmingly tactual – and enjoys ontological depth and heft. But the binary issue of simulation and dissimulation is not, we sense, important to Boudreault. What is important – all that is important – is finally, as it is for any painter, what remains on the final surface of things, the “coming” surface which Is rife with its own spectres of depth, the surface that arrives like Derrida”s “l’avenir” which has no precedent and no precursor, but which arrives on the threshold of vision like a person announcing a future tense never to be realized at least not right now.
There is a phenomenal delicacy in the act of making here that bears commenting upon. Iron firmly in hand, Boudreault is no sullen handmaiden to the domesticity of this painting facture. Better call him its resolute midwife, because only in this manner – methodical layering, methodological sedimentation, and careful delivery, sans caesura -- could such hauntingly alive and vital works of art be born out of the void, fully expressive, and encased in their sumptuous swaddling cloths, circumstances and surrounds.
One such work is his portrait of a young and wilful Andy Warhol, before rumours of spoilage and near-ruin set in, almost girl-like, a ravenous innocence in the features and the eyes. Then we look closer and closer again and register the fact that perhaps Warhol’s eyes were never innocent at all, even as a child, but always knowing, feral, on the prowl. But the eyes are the same – the self-same as those after the shooting and the other scars. They have not changed. They are the same. Boudreault captures and works from this captivating fact: from birth to death, the eyes of a human being remain the same.
This is most movingly demonstrated in Boudreault’s own self-portrait, where the young painter’s face reads like prophecy, the dark eyes expressive of a desire to know, name and identify that nameless Other who inhabited his young mind.
For all the talk of darkening and dying, denigration and denial of vision and the optic in our thinking culture, the eyes remain, as noted earlier, identifiable and unchanged. Such is the case with Boudreault’s Warhol, Churchill, Duras, J.F.K. and all those others that he has so memorably put to paint. He seizes on his subjects in their ‘tender’ youth – and yet his portraits are ineluctably of the whole person, young and old. The eyes know. They reveal all: past, present and future and hold us within an infinite present tense, on the threshold of the image and transfixed by it.
Since youth, I have been infatuated with the books of Vladimir Nabokov and Marcel Proust, and I feel that both bodies of work segue with the deep thematics of Boudreault’s painting – namely, where time, aura and memory are all implicated. Poetry, too, if truth be told. If I cite Nabokov in particular here, it is perhaps because his ‘memory work’ reminds me of Boudreault’s in its elegance, cohesiveness and thoroughness. Its patina grows ever more resonant, thicker and deeper as time and rereading goes on, just as Boudreault’s paintings do as we look and look again and again.
In “Speak, Memory,” the memoir that Nabokov wrote in fragments during the 1940s, reconstituted in book form in 1952 and then again in the 1960s, he recovers from his past the scaffolding for a comprehensive poetic reverie of his early life. (5) It is similar to the entirely humane paintings of Louis Boudreault. We may not remember where and when we first laid eyes on those paintings, but from thenceforth we were hooked, awakened once again to the enabling power of a vision that has vertical depth.
If Nabokov’s memoir was deeply autobiographical, Boudreault’s portraits are profoundly biographical -- though not just. The images he secures of his subjects when young have to touch a chord in his psyche, first, and if this chord is not touched, a portrait will simply be impracticable for him. He has parted ways with a subject when such a caesura has occurred. They are, thus, deeply autobiographical as well in their own way.
Boudreault conveys the feverish working through and intertwining of inner and outer selves with poetic efficacy in his paintings. His own self-portrait betrays his own haunting. But the gravitas in it – or in any of his portraits, for that matter – is never so intense as to qualify as a lead weight. Instead it buoys us up with the recognition that the author is here to celebrate and commemorate at once – and not to give way to mourrnfulness or mute regret.
In a commentary on Speak, memory, Jonathan Yardley wrote:
The development of the inner and outer self, and attending properly to that task can only plunge the author into the abyss of self. The successful memoirist is the one who explores self in ways in which others can see perhaps a glimmer of their own selves and who retains throughout the redeeming quality of self-deprecation. (6)
Nabokov may have been obsessed by his past, but Boudreault is no hostage to his. Say rather, he is obsessed with ours. I mean our culture, here and now, and his salutary attempt is to supplant the horrors of the present in favor of something like stoicism and hopefulness, reminding us of the golden world before the rot set in, human beings vitrified – and empathy failed. His portraits are luminous. Surely, the impulsion that drives him is neither one of commemoration nor of memorializing a given subject, but one of auratic visualization. He instills vital life in his subjects, and grants them a vivacious aura. It is we, his viewers who are, as a result, haunted by the past. Haunted collectively, say, by all those photos of Kennedy just before – and during – the assassination – that fly into the well of memory, and are drowned there, as we view Boudreault’s youthful, hopeful, vibrant image salvaged from the dead President’s brave youth – and are somehow, in some way, auratically subsumed by it.
Nabokov wrote: “The act of vividly recalling a patch of the past is something that I seem to have been performing with the utmost zest all my life.” And later: “I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past.” (7)
Boudreault subtly insinuates, rather than roughly or haphazardly constructs. He is meticulous in his way, nimble and deft in suggesting likeness, and achieving something in graphite and fugitive incidents of color that transcend all the virtues and verities of verisimilitude. Exactly how he achieves this is beyond the compass of language. The pursuit of such incandescent patches and passages is tireless in the paintings under discussion here. The choice of the luminaries he has gathered into the fold is intrinsically interesting because it reveals the mark they have left upon him throughout life. No zealot he, but Louis Boudreault, like Nabokov before him, places each chosen subject within the context of his or her own childhood, and there is never any indication that semiotic contrasts with his own past have any meaning or relevance, but that is the hallmark, after all, of an interior art that aspires to objectivity, amidst all the semiotic exotica still in play.
Whether or not Boudreault, like Nabokov, grew up in a prestigious down home St. Petersburg townhouse or on prosperous estates south of that city, has no bearing upon the matter. In a sense, Boudreault renounces his own personal biography in the making of these portraits. In another sense, of course, they are indistinguishable from his own history: they are the product of his hand, his imagination, his eye, his mind. His sensibility is to be found everywhere within them, from the bluish pattern in an apron to the dark vaults of eyes that do not turn away, but hold us taut between fascination and embarrassment. Furthermore, why excavate the past of his chosen subjects, if not to excavate his own, and make memory speak for both? The abiding need to perform an archeological dig on childhood memories is universal, after all. His portraiture speaks eloquently of archeopsychic time at its most spinal, seismic and unassailable.
III. Collector of Souls?
One supposes that Boudreault collects his subjects much in the way that Nabokov, that wily and devout lepidopterist, collected his butterflies. However, unlike Nabokov, there is in Boudreault’s art no furtive collecting for its own sake or for rank covetousness. The specificity belongs to his subjectivity alone. His subjects, he seems to say, are those whose adulthood is most haunted by the restless ghosts of their own childhoods. But then, on that ground, we all are.
No. He identifies the numinous in each, like the candle when first lit, long before being extinguished, burns brightest. It is a truism that the flame that burns brightest burns half as long. This is a truth that the youths in his portraits effortlessly demonstrate, as their intensity stakes its claim upon us. We come to realize that Boudreault is no mere collector of the famous, pious or impious, sacred or profane, but a sampler of spirits. As we gaze into the eyes of his subjects, we come to recognize that it is our own souls that are being collected there, in those dark, fermenting vaults.
The breath and the phenomenal freshness of youth is here radiant, and yet also its profound individuality of voice, before joining the chorus that would govern it or which it would govern in its turn. There may still be a similar concern for rarity – and rating subjectival exotica. But say rather that he collects our memories of his luminaries, and thus transforms both his subjects and his viewers accordingly. He chooses to share his findings with us, and those he has situated on the threshold of eternity invariably speak of a shared humanity, luminous genius. Therein, in that ennobling discovery, lies our own quantum of solace. His art is predicated on touching our collective memories with force of a shared belief in the numinous qualities of certain human beings who have enlivened the hive, after all, just as his subjects touched him in some nameless way and occasionally shaped or impinged upon his own biography (i.e. Andy Warhol).
Still, at a certain level of passion and intentionality and incarnate poeisis, Nabokov’s confession and subscription to the promise of ecstasy – and ecstatic hermeneutics -- is virtually indistinguishable from Boudreault’s own:
“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness—in a landscape selected at random—is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern—to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.” (8)
Boudreault, too, folds his magic carpet after each and every use. He stands tall in the graveyard – but it is no mute ossuary, after all – and he wears his heart on his sleeve. It is the place where memories swell and become living things once again, green shoots burst upon sensing Spring in the scent of the morning air and all is made new and strange. He summons his tender ghosts into the present tense through a process that is probably torturous for him – and emotionally true. Lucky for us. Once engaged in a body of work, he is in the studio 24/7, and the work exerts its hypnotic hold upon him and he is well-nigh helpless in its grasp. I would suggest that the art of interiority this memory work requires is significant, and probably harrowing for the artist himself. It is one thing to represent a human being, quite another to invest it with real presence and mensurable aura – a numinous sense of life, of the life of the Other, and of what it means to be alive.
I mean ‘aura’ not in the way that Walter Benjamin spoke of it in his early writings but in quite another way, perhaps only conceivable across the vast divide that separates us from the ends of Modernism. Benjamin meant in the first instance that sense of awe and reverence one experienced in the presence of what he held to be authentic art. Benjamin held that aura was intrinsic in, say, the cultural value of the artwork. (9) But whereas he argued that aura was felt in relation to art's traditional association with primitive, feudal, or bourgeois structures of power and with magic and ritual, we find that, in Boudreault’s work, the aura stems from ongoing memory work and has thus withered away therein not one iota but has only been strengthened thereby.
However, having said that, it is interesting to note that when Benjamin invokes aura, it is in the context of as intimate a relationship as that obtaining between the childhood portrait of Warhol, say, and our memory of his older self. What I mean to suggest is that the originary aura stems from or is co-intensive with a utopian moment in the psyche and in life. Does childhood equate with utopia, then? For many of us, it probably does. We must then ask ourselves: Can childhood in its essence, in its evolutive and radiant necessity, be auratic? It probably can be and is. At least in the here and now of our being and our believing, and in the remarkable painting world of Louis Boudreault.
Benjamin defined aura originally in terms of the identifiable gap between author (purveyor) of the work of art and the work itself. With the advent of mechanical reproduction, he argues, the distance has been narrowed, aura winnowed down, and the work of art itself democratized as a result. (10) How Warholesque! Yet, Boudreault’s portrait of the young Warhol is anything but, even though he has amassed an impressive working archive of Warhol photographic portraits from the Internet in the research phase.
Clearly, in the early 21st century, aura is far from being expunged from or marginalized in artwork. Attempts to exorcise it have been abject failures, even on the profane threshold of Damien Hirst’s giant shark, spliced in roundelles and preserved in formaldehyde. Who has not felt the frisson? Now, the distance between the work of art and the author (and consumer) widens more than ever. We live in a world where our aesthetic experience threatens to collapse Warhol, crown prince of both copy and commodity, into a potent posthuman integer aggressively marketing his own image. Yet Warhol is somehow released into full aura, made to live again, willed to speak by Louis Boudreault. If this is a paradox, it is also a testament to his considerable gifts as a painter.
It is also amusing to reflect on the fact that while Benjamin's "Artwork" essay calls photography into the judgment box for the dissolution of aura in the traditional artwork, Boudreault uses photographic images to his own ends, and secures aura for his own portraits, having used digital images, as noted earlier, as an invaluable resource in the pre-painting phase.
However, in his later essay on photography, Benjamin seems to reverse himself and further develop his notion of the auratic, even disavowing to some extent the earlier formulation. He suggests that aura is present in both early portrait photography and the commercial studio portrait. Benjamin cites, for instance, a childhood photograph of Franz Kafka, much like those used by Boudreault and perhaps even the self-same one cited, the melancholy aura of which inspired him.
In any case, we know that the melancholy atmosphere in this ‘portrait’ inspired Benjamin to formulate an unusual yet convincing post-auratic aura. It is fitting, given Boudreault’s own source imagery and collecting proclivities, that we cite Benjamin's writings on photography for an idea of aura that obtains between viewer and image and dovetails nicely with his own work. Here is a remarkable conjuring trick – and I think Warhol, who the painter met and knew during his lifetime, would have been amused – and would have, in all likelihood, wholeheartedly approved.
Bourdeault reminds us that, from our tainted vantage point in the present tense, an art of “looking backwards” using photographic images as reference, touchstone and phenomenological clue, might help restore an authentic sense of aura to subjects that so haunt the collective memory of the West that they are unavoidably self-present even in their absence. So rather than a wholesale elimination of aura, Boudreault offers an auratic mode of experience as authentic as it is pressing, and one in which aura itself holds sway.
In his paintings, aura is inextricably dovetailed with both memory and present experience, just as they are in our ‘reading’ of old photographs that continue to haunt and which, as Roland Barthes once observed, possess an entirely eerie and even uncanny residual presence that cannot be exhausted or tamed in the looking. (11)
When we look at a gathering of Boudreault’s portraits in a gallery on adjacent and facing walls, the words of British novelist Peter Ackroyd, return to haunt us:
“They were face to face, and yet they looked past one another at the pattern which they cast upon the stone; for when there was a shape there was a reflection, and when there was a light there was a shadow, and when there was a sound there was an echo, and who could say where one had ended and the other had begun? And when they spoke they spoke with one voice.” 
It seems to me that what Boudreault achieves in his portraiture is a strange and exalting permeability of past and present, a porous nomenclature as unforeseen as it is exceptionally self-present – and preternaturally intense. The voices of time are profoundly multiple, but in at least one sense all these subjects speak in one voice, and we are complicit. The chorus is numinous. There is the backwards-running narrative of the protagonist, the subject, intertwined with our own narrative as seers, remembering subjects, and running in parallel with his. Think, too, of Borges who, in “The Garden of Forking Paths,” offers the notion of time splitting and arcing.
Boudreault’s “remembrances” are commemorative and restorative, and they are, meta-portraits as well. The haunting aura of a Boudreault portrait lingers with us. He raises us onto the threshold where, much like Ackroyd’s protagonist, we somehow mirror and are mirrored within his subject, returned to our own lost youth. As Ackroyd wrote: “…then in my dream I looked down at myself, and saw in what rags I stood; and I am a child again, begging on the threshold of eternity.” (13) This artist returns both his subjects and his viewers to the dream, in which we all, in rags of light, are matadors in the face of ‘l’avenir’ and beggars on the threshold of a future which is still to arrive.
IV. Sculpting with Scissors
During the last fifteen years of his life, Henri Matisse developed his quintessential artistic breakthrough – one of many in a career known for its extraordinary restlessness -- by "cutting into color” which in one sense meant cutting the umbilical cord to his earlier work.
In another sense of course, it marked a moment of profound continuity in his creative vision. By running scissors through prepared sheets of paper, he inaugurated one of the most beguiling chapters of his long, illustrious career. Such was the casual authority of his eye and hands that he cut the forms out freehand. He would use a tiny pair of scissors and saved both the item cut out and the remaining scraps of paper -- which he hoarded assiduously in his archive.
Like Matisse, Louis Boudreault surveys the full array of what he wants to arrange and rearrange on the original plane and fix in time and place there. His own archive is vast. He will roam libraries and image banks and internet arrays to find youthful portraits of his chosen subjects. Those subjects then become participants in a real and vital drama of making that runs the gamut from drawing and painting to sculpture.
Certainly the sheer level of formal invention and sensuous palette found in Matisse’s papiers coupes remain without precedent or parallel in the pantheon and prefigure Boudreault’s numinous portraiture.
According to Matisse's daughter, Marguerite Duthuit, Matisse employed "gouached-paper cutouts", and yet Pierre Matisse adopted what has become the lasting designation of gouache decoupee. As opposed to just cutting ordinary sheets of paper, Matisse often used sumptuous paper stock and toiled endlessly to achieve just the right gouache tone. In Boudreault’s case, he is a more wide-ranging scavenger and often collages fabric as well as paper onto the lane, but in a very subtle and unobtrusive way, so that a sense of pattern becomes an epiphany in its own right.
As Matisse did, he often asks a studio assistant to affix the fabric remnants and papers to the ground with a clothing iron. Boudreault monitors the whole process with intense vigilance. Each color choice and each placement is crucial as the palimpsest is being built up, erased, built up again and again. The calibration of the overall plane is slow, methodical, and can be as disruptive as it is smooth sailing. With cut out papers and colors in hand, the painter begins an arduous process of finessing the palimpsest, in order to achieve a co-extensive state of material subtlety and visual intensity.
Commentators have often pointed out that Matisse was more akin to a sculptor than a painter in his use of this innovative medium of expression. Still, a drawing regimen ruled the roost, as it does for Louis Boudreault. Still, it is worth pointing out that his art of palimpsest portraiture is also essentially a matter of making sculpture, akin to making drywall, and the “painting” achieves a real sense of being an object in space, even when confined to the wall plane.
Unlike Matisse, Boudreault, having cut out the shapes, does not pin them to the walls of his studio. Instead, he irons them onto the surface of his painting like plaster on a drywall. They are worked through and rendered on the hard board, ironed-on and subsequently appraised as he builds up the palimpsest until the desired threshold of density in the face and torso had been reached. Boudreault, like Matisse before him, read the pieces of paper like a sort of braille, inveigling sense slowly, as though he could read the palimpsest through the very pores of his skin. To see his works in the process of fermentation reminds us of his gifts when it comes to appraising the particularly physical nature of these works.
While preparing for a major exhibition in Tokyo in 1951, Matisse was interviewed by Japanese artist, philosopher, and poet Riichiro Kawzhima and he had this to say: "I cut paper, but I'm drawing with the scissors. The drawings I obtain by cutting paper are, in a sense, an abstraction. That is why they aren't limited to one thing or one meaning, they seem to vary infinitely depending on who is looking at them". Similarly, Boudreault cuts his papers and chooses judiciously what to iron onto his palimpsests, but his myriad acts of drawing extend far beyond the reach of his scissors, and it is his remarkable drawing skills that pull everything into the whirlpool that will resolve itself into the final portrait; say, that of the young Pablo Picasso, indomitable in his demeanor even then, and with a gravity that pulls us ineluctably within its orbit like moths to the flame.
Boudreault has always been, and this right back to the very origins of his project, most experimental with the support he chooses, materials he uses and the means of facture itself. “Painting with scissors,” Matisse said, and this enabled him to express what “constitutes my real self: free, liberated.” We have a suspicion that Boudreault, too, found his real self and true artistic freedom when he discovered the palimpsest method of portraiture and used cut-outs, both building up and methodically paring down, to reach back through time and envision his subjects in their tender youth. Matisse’s cut-outs are certainly a touchstone for Boudreault’s art of phenomenal archeopsychic capture and ecstatic commemoration.
V. Speak, Memory!
Quiet -- and quietly alluring -- but always highly charged and provocative in their mien, Boudreault’s portraits speak of memory and restitution, atavisms spelt backwards and the anfractuous voices of time.
He achieves something like hard-won synthesis. I have kept vigil in his studio, watched the birthing process and slow build-up of the subject, but have never been certain as to the moment of arrival. Suddenly, a threshold of expression is reached, an image arrived at, a likeness attained which, if truth be told, transcends mere likeness and becomes almost a spiritual surrogate. And then, like a proverbial ventriloquist’s dummy, the subject is made to speak. And this is no babble, no speaking in tongues, but a rich idiom of those homeward bound (to the past), and outward reaching (to the future).
If they are also rife with the hooks of real presence, numinous absence, of what has been left unsaid and what remains luminously self-present within their frames, Louis Boudreault’s paintings call to us not from an exorbitant outside – as though we could ever make that leap, however empathic our capacities, and, yet, perhaps we can and must, as we strive to each day in the lifeworld, in relation to the Other -- -- but from deep within ourselves. They rarely, if ever, disappoint. Empathy never fails here, and the constitutive onus the painter places upon himself – and us, his viewers—has never been greater than in this sundered world of ours with wars breaking out everywhere and the value of life itself sullied and spoiled.
Louis Boudreault forces us a question upon us, the same asked by Louis Marin:
Pourquoi parler d’un tableau, à nouveau? Et souvent, pourquoi en écrire? Dire ce qui en fin de compte ne pourra jamais être complètement, exhaustivement, dit; en dire une partie seulement, reparcourir une tranche de temps où ce tableau est devenu comme une hantise, une énigme, un problème, une question; conserver les « minutes » de ce parcours, archiver ces lectures faites, mises en question, reprises, inépuisables, produire des traces de ces lectures, fulgurantes, parfois patientes, besogneuses souvent. (14)
And, if we choose to answer that question which is also clarion call to look close and then more closely still, if we heed that mellifluous inner voice, we will be all the richer as a result. There is no denying it. Boudreault, heir to Nabokov, Proust, and Matisse, makes paintings that not only have the power to transport us to another time, another place, but offer us in resonant chorus environments in which Mnemosyne, at once the strongest and most fragile of human faculties, and, in any case, a very beguiling Muse, is made to speak, and eloquently, too, of our finitude and our promise, of what it means to be human and to yearn after transcendence. And so he puts paint to the first flower of our humanity.
In so doing, in evoking the Mother of all the Muses and, for that matter, of all art, both his subjects and his viewers are restored to that state of paradisical youth, when the optic was selfsame but the world itself seemed so much younger, if not wiser, and a latter-day swathe of darkness had yet to settle across the vast figural array of the lived world like some demented cry of calamitous ending and sorrow. Louis Boudreault, on the other hand, is all about the delicate art of beginnings – and attendant moments of pure, unmitigated joy.
Montreal, March 22, 2010
1_ See Vladimir Nabokov. “Speak, Memory” in The Portable Nabokov, selected with a critical introduction by Page Stegner (New York: The Viking Press, 1968).
2_ Jean-Luc Nancy, trans. Jeff Fort, The Ground of the Image (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), p. 37
3_ Ibid, p. 111.
5_ Nabokov, op. cit.
6_ Jonathan Yardley, “Nabokov’s Brightly Colored Wings of Memory” in The Washington Post (Wednesday, May 26, 2004; page C01).
7_ Nabokov, Ibid.
9_ See Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (third version), in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940 (p. 251-283). (Translated from “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” , Gesammelte Schriften I, vol. 2, p. 431-508 by Zohn and Jephcott.) or “The Artwork In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in ILLUMINATIONS: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968 and Schocken Books, NY, 1969.
10. Walter Benjamin “Little History of Photography,” in Selected Writings Vol. 2 1927-1934. Trans Rodney Livingstone et. al. Eds. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith. Cambridge Mass: Harvard UP, 1999, pp 507-530 and [CP IbidKleine Geschichte der Photographie”, Die Literarische Welt, 7e j, n° 38, 18 septembre, p. 3-4; n° 39, 25 septembre, p. 3-4 et n° 40, 2 octobre 1931, p. 7-8,
11_ See Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982).
12_ Ackroyd, Peter, Hawksmoor (London: Abacus, 1985), p. 217.
14_ Louis Marin, « Les fins de l’interprétation, ou les traversées du regard dans le sublime d’une tempête », De la représentation, Paris, Le Seuil – Gallimard, coll. Hautes études, 1994, p. 180
_ 21st Century 20 th Century Portraits _
by john k. grande
Louis Boudreault's art presents the imagery of the 20th century, more specifically portraits of the famous and infamous. He does so in a presentational, very Pop, even conceptual manner. While the sources for his art are the imagery of a media-generated age, his art captures what Marshall McLuhan once referred to as the folklore of industrial man. Adopting an anthropological approach to analyzing imagery in the media, McLuhan ultimately uncovered the links between symbol and icon. What distinguishes our desire from reality is ultimately a matter of consumption of the image rather than discrimination or judgment about what the image represents as content within. And so, when Louis Boudreault presents his portrait images of personalities of the 20th century, it is not simply the image or collective assembling of an image that is significant. Instead it is the way an image is presented that becomes part of the total communication inherent to his art.
These multi-media artworks thus become places where renowned icons of the 20th century history exist in a relation that involves a potential construction or deconstruction of the image. Boudreault builds his visual biography with an intuitive assemblage technique that accompanies the drawn and painted image per se. And it is significant for us the viewers that each of these portraits hovers in that zone of ambiguity where relativism raises its presence in relation to our reading of the work of art. The distance can be measured, between the aesthetics of a portraitist such as Sir Joshua Reynolds whose steadfast endorsement of a hierarchy of aesthetics nevertheless states in his Discourses that, « Invention is one of the great marks of genius; but if we consult experience, we shall find, that it is by being conversant with the inventions of others, that we learn to invent; as by reading the thoughts of others we learn to think. » (1).
Thus, aesthetics traditionally involved a forward-going continuity that embodied history. History relied on a continuum of art and artists in the Neoclassic and Romantic eras, and indeed, this spirit of history was transferred to Modernism. This said, the relativism of today`s aesthetics endorses a reduction of context, and a pseudo-objectivity, as a metaphor for the actual process whereby images come into being, are manufactured. But Louis Boudreault`s portraits are not simply art about anyone or everyone. These 20th century portraits are of famous or perhaps infamous people. They are personages collectively considered to have an historical significance. These subjects` contributions range from science, to the arts, to literature, to technology and they have entered into our collective imagination.
Packaging these personalities is a process, and that process involves the actual way the images are put together, the way they are affixed, drawn, even compositionally set within the context of the tableaux. Often the portraits are floated on surfaces that are left open at the edges. The surface reveals a virtual and immediate layering, like an artistic geology of sometimes unseen, partially hidden or completely obscured elements. This approach is a significant part of the language of Louis Boudreault`s artmaking practice. It is as if the imagery itself were a form of packaging, that itself is packaged with visual and vernacular content and this is what makes these works wholly contemporary. Somehow the content and the presentation are rendered equal as values. These artworks seize us precisely because they have gone through a process of transferal, of adaptation through media, from personality, to photo, to rendering and artistic interpretation, to presentation as an artwork.
Louis Boudreault has for some time, been immersed in notions of distance, of near and far, of times past and present, the gap between these is the point where we interpret and assume a value or a visual weight to an image. Vuillard played with visual conceptions of interior and exterior space with a similar enthusiasm. With his Shipping Boxes exhibited at the Galerie Les Modernes, Boudreault had fun by playing with the actual sources for artist`s materials, more specifically the colours used to create masterpieces of Western painting during the Renaissance (1450-1590). They were often acquired from exotic and foreign sources, and the colour road paralleled the ancient Spice Road. The Spice Road went from India through Egypt and Bengal. In Europe at the same time, chemists were seeking to develop colour. And so while colour is a source for the painter (Leonardo da Vinci related their high price and the difficulty of obtaining colours only furthered the sense of mystery) each colour as an object that will come to represent as art also carries within it something of this sense of a journey, something more than what this or that colour will come to represent in a work of art. And so Boudreault`s Shipping Boxes like Arman or Yves Klein`s artworks, contain and compose with object elements (in this case blocks of color) that become the artwork, a very Duchampian gesture. Aligning color samplers within shipping boxes creates a sense of mystery, and suggests that these are elements that are exotic, came from afar, from a place one cannot actually see, about which one knows very little (like Raymond Roussel`s Impressions d`Afrique perhaps). This is precisely what media imagery, whether on a video screen, a poster, or a moving vehicle, achieve for us in our era, a sense that we ourselves are foreign to the contexts we witness, absorb, consume…
And then there is the objectification of these color samples, a theatrical presentational quality that recalls Yves Klein`s monochromes with their absence of a visible signature, and a quiet resonance, even objectivity. As early as 1954, Klein exhibited his monochrome paintings at the judo association where he taught in Paris subsequently publishing Yves: Peintures and Haguenault: Peintures in collaboration with Franco de Sarabia`s engraving studio not far from Madrid. Claude Pascal`s introduction to the 10 monochromatic prints in each edition (Haguenault was a pseudonym of Klein`s) simply became three pages of black lines, and there were arbitrary measurements and the names of various cities around the world… Madrid, Tokyo, Nice, Paris. Playing on and with notions of reproduction and originality, Louis Boudreault`s Shipping Boxes like these early productions by Yves Klein build a metaphysical atmosphere, but one that is equally objectified, immaterial. The ultimate gesture inherent to these presentations is that they bring us closer to understanding art surpasses any medium, and exposes the viewer to his or her own intuition, to their place as actors within the process of art that moves elliptically from a point of context that is the artwork`s conception, to the putting together or assembling and creation of the artwork, to the journey (a kind of shipping that often involves boxes, crates, containers just as these color samples are contained, and indeed our own spirits by our bodies) from the studio to the exhibition venue, to the inevitable interpretation by viewers, curators, critics, the public at large, and perhaps a final identification with a place of origin that may be associated with identity, memory, the broader context of our lives…
For another exhibition at the Musée de la Mer, Boudreault likewise worked with imagery related to the indigenous fishing and drying industry on the Îles de la Madeleine and for this series of artworks depicted men digging out mussels and clams on the shoreline, fishermen with their nets, children playing along a shoreline in their straw hats, and actual trawler boats, he likewise included a series of containers that each had various forms of salt within them. Again we see the presentation and the packaging, the notion of transport, exchange, and that we are continuously involved in the import, the export, the consumption of materials. Materials from nature, and the relation to nature are a strong element in all of Louis Boudreault`s works.
The cult of the image is now replacing the cult of the object. We cannot seize or capture entirely (in spirit) that which the images represent to us. There is a gulf between our desire for that which the image represents and what it actually is. This is where the inherent mystery rests. And so portraiture, as Louis Boudreault paints and builds it, brings us back to a form of Orientalism worthy of Henri Matisse or the photographer Beato who brought back images of and for colonization. Indeed, the influence of Japonisme can be attributed in its early manifestations to the woodcuts used as packing materials for wrapping artifacts, antiques and pottery when shipped to Europe in the 19th century. The Impressionists and artists in general discovered the woodcut images when the wrapping paper was discarded and this in turn influenced Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and others…
Andy Warhol, the celebrity portraitist of the 20th century and an artist who captured an entire structure of celebrity, from the peripheral characters to the most celebrated, once commented on this by saying ``If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, there I am. There’s nothing behind it.``2 The same can be said of John Singer Sargent who considered himself a painter of surfaces. The surface of a portrait such as Sargent`s Madame X was as much an amphitheatre of society as a painting of Lake O`Hara might be an amphitheatre of nature. But portraiture is an age-old form of art, and the portrait fulfils a function within a society of patrons not only as a representation, but equally as an icon of value for that clientele. It can define the persona to the patron of what they desire or own, ascribing a value or wealth to this or that person. We see this in the paintings of Jan Vermeer, Hans Holbein, Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, even Andy Warhol and John Singer Sargent…
Whether the sources are snapshots, a Polaroid, a poster image, a film still these paintings are time capsules that not only capture many layers of Pop history, but equally engage in the phenomena of presentation. These portrait works exist on a series of layers of paper, materials with evidence of an incomplete wrap along the edges of these tableaux…. We see Albert Einstein, Rosa Luxembourg, John Lennon, Edith Piaf, Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Warhol, Mao, Che Guevara, Salvador Dali Maria Callas, Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, the Wright brothers, Marlene Dietrich, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Mahatma Ghandi… a pantheon of personages, in their childhood long before they had achieved any recognition, at a point in their lives when personality is in the process of being formed… As Louis Boudreault has commented, the one noticeable element in the portraits of any of these fascinating, dynamic, historically significant personages that does not ever change from childhood to adulthood is that their eyes. The landscape of their faces, the shapes of their heads, the size of their heads in relation to their bodies may shift, alter, shrink or grow, but those eyes are the one constant. Two eyes that see the world. Two eyes. And the eyes we see these paintings remain constant, capturing a world, a visual world, and carrying this vision through to our mind.
In today's culture we have become like magpies with rapid eyes, who seek the moving image, the image per se, and that which shines. The stage expands in a virtual era. The portrait image in these paintings exists against a background that is openly constructed, built as a two-dimensional stage with its own material contrasts, juxtapositions, elements. These elements exist to heighten the historicity of the portrait image. This act of juxtaposition brings a more absolute historicity to these portraits, but equally makes us aware that we live in an era when history is rephrasing itself, is subject to multiple influences, and that cultural dissonance or confluence unconsciously affects the way we read contexts, even the authenticity of imagery.
Boudreault has a conceptual edge to his art, even when working with object installation, as was the case with the Shipping Boxes, but it is MacAvoy (1891-1977), a Paris-based painter who celebrated the society portrait in his art, who influenced Louis significantly in the direction his approach to art has taken. Boudreault came to know MacAvoy quite well during his years in France. It is what Boudreault calls the ``taste for the personality`` 3 that exists at the heart of portraiture that MacAvoy understood and communicated to the artist. MacAvoy painted such personages as Francois Mauriac, Marie Noel, Marc Chagall, Henry de Montherlant, Jean Cocteau, Johnny Halliday, General de Gaulle, the Empress of Iran, Louise de Valmorin, Ionesco and many others throughout his life. Societal life in global cities is a human zoo of sorts, with its particular contexts, both societal and aesthetic, as worthy of an aseptic criticism as an overall appreciation.
While portraiture is a media factory and a bonfire of the vanities for Andy Warhol, MacAvoy`s portraits are like a template for the later Pop portraiture of Andy Warhol, but from an earlier generation on another continent that had writers like Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley or Jean Genet as opposed to Tom Wolfe or other such radical chic writers. What distinguishes Louis Boudreault`s approach from the former MacAvoy or later Warhol portraitist is his grasp of the processes of assemblage, of installation, of contextual layerings with materials. He integrates these elements into his portraits in an anthropological way. In this sense, Boudreault, shares something very spirited with Mario Merz or Jannis Kounellis in his understanding of the contemporary context, the theatrical anonymity of the artwork and the awareness of its presentational point of attraction. The American painter Larry Rivers, for instance, would understand Boudreault`s ambiguity of posture, of presentation even more than Andy Warhol, who loved the iconic register of colour and of images. The clues in Boudreault`s art are less in the reading of elements than in the interplay between materials. It is a kind of visual writing with materials. The writing involves layers of experience that are the materials themselves. The portrait rests atop it all. Materials have particular relations to one another, as printed paper or fabric or found elements, and are a sub-text to the portrait. These compositional integrations are ahistorical and counters the basic historicity of each personality portrait image.
There is a very visual and dynamic interplay between the basic recognizable characters of each of these portraits of famous individuals, even if they are presented as young children, at a point of formation in their lives when personality is in the process of being formed, and the standardized scale and presentation of these works within the series. History exists within an ahistorical context, which itself may not have a hierarchy as it did in the era of Sir Joshua Reynolds, at least not visibly. The historical layerings, like the layers of materials in Boudreault paintings, exist as a series of phenomena, actions the artist has taken to build a mystery, to engender an aura or mystique that occur in parallel or tandem with the actual portrait image. The layerings can be obscured, hidden, buried beneath other layers, just as they are in history. The image, the portrait, thus exist as signs or symbols of convergence within a society whose contexts are abstract, conceived in a non-space, a mediatized bits and bytes, whether informational, ideational or purely visual. And this pure visuality… this is always a predominant element that rises through the layers, the sequences, the contexts, even past the image per se. We can read these paintings thus, as purely visual phenomena, created in a certain early 21st century period of questioning of historicity, where the signals and signs are understood, but the contexts are less readily associated with memory, with place or individual identity. Anomalous, integrated, they resonate with an essential visual experiential dimensionality that is about our understanding of the moment where we, as viewers, interact, exchange visions with the artist. The interface is these portraits themselves, recognizable to many of us, and a common currency to all humanity. It all occurs amid an endlessly shifting landscape of contexts, of images, of architectures of the soul, and we read ourselves within these vast, immeasurable contexts of historicity that Louis Boudreault`s paintings are a tribute to.
Drawing, whether in ink, conté, pencil or watercolour, has a lively aspect, and interpretive character that reveals much about the particular moment in time, the sentiment of the artists as much as the personality, as witnessed by Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud or, in Canada, Fred Varley or Jean-Paul Lemieux. Eternity could be black or white, but the blank page offers an infinite range of possibilities to the artist. Boudreault constructs his portraits and the rendering is simply a part of the process of layering, which includes tissues, textiles, paper …The process is akin to Joseph Cornell’s surreal box assemblages, but here the material serves to further the notion that these portraits exist in a world of manufactured desires, and the exchange between image and material is a symbolic one.
The portrait becomes a commodity, exchanged within a hierarchy of contexts, materials, each layered within Boudreault`s constructions. Boudreault`s portrait constructions with their paper layers, materials, likewise exist in a tentative non-space where the process can move forward to construction or backwards toward deconstruction. These paintings have a relativity that personifies the essentially mercurial and elusive character of history. The value exists is the point of exchange between viewer and art. The reversibility principle known to conservators of art, exists at all levels in society. Surface and content are interchangeable in an almost Buddhist sense. And this is what Andy Warhol seized as well, for the two are one and the same thing at some level. The mystique is in the eyes of the beholder.
1_ John Burnet F.R.S., The Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds illustrated by Explanatory Notes and Plates, London: James Carpenter, 1842, p. 96.
2_ Gretchen Berg, `Nothing to Lose: An Interview with Andy Warhol, 1967, Andy Warhol: Film Factory, ed. Michael O`Pray (London: BFI Publishing, 1989), p. 56.
3_ Louis Boudreault in conversation with John K. Grande, Montreal, Canada, May 2007.