Two artists, one exhibition.
Correspondences, by Yechel Gagnon and Alexandre Masino, confronts us with the twofold challenge of seeing both distances and proximities – intimate connections – between the works of each artist. While skeptics may be surprised at this particular pairing of artists, they will likely be even more surprised, as well as confounded, by the experience that awaits them: they will be gently struck by the wealth and depth of the dialogues that take shape between two bodies of work that, on the surface, have so little in common.
Indeed, can there be unity where there seems to be nothing but diversity?
In response to wood, there is wax.
In response to abstraction, there is figuration.
In response to mat, there is lustre.
In response to solidity, there is vibration.
And yet, while the media, techniques and languages may differ, we are faced with a convincing unity.
There is the durability of the natural materials.
There is the strength of the execution.
There is relief and texture.
There is stratification.
There is landscape.
Above all, there is landscape. Whether suggested or represented, imagined or real, invented or reinvented, it always prompts contemplation and meditation.
With – and beyond – landscape, there is a subtle intention of removing the persistent boundaries between abstract and figurative art. Erected in the past to avoid unmentionable inheritances and undesirable cross-fertilizations, these boundaries are now obsolete.
Between tradition and modernity there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when in conjunction, modernity breathes life into tradition, while the latter replies with depth and gravity. … A simultaneous plurality of time and presence. … Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence.1
It is when we consciously choose to ignore all boundaries, in a specific place and time, that the many possible correspondences emerge. It is when we, momentarily, reject categorizations that the un-thought-of appears.
Two studios, one stairway.
Correspondences brings together, in a common space, the two artists’ respective works.
Stepping into this shared space is not the same as entering each artist’s studio in turn: rather, it is seeing each artist enter the other’s studio every day and enliven it with his or her individual presence; it is observing their daily to-and-fro in the stairway that runs between them. A stairway – an empty space, a passageway, never a destination – through which pass concepts, intentions and determinations; a stairway the artists each take – confident, hesitant, eager – to their own place or to the other artist’s place; a stairway between two places the same, yet different.
From this shared space, an aura emanates: here, intimacy is revealed. In this shared space, a murmur rises: the paintings attest to the artists’ daily exchanges about their art; when admiration sparks inspiration and criticism is paramount, the stairway is a place of silence, conducive to absorbing the constructive dialogue that will lead to the work’s transformation. Through their harmonious murmur, the paintings disclose that these separate voices come together in visual languages that draw abundantly upon the same sources.
It is in this temporarily shared space that these works boldly reveal their secret movements back and forth. You have to enter, move about within this space, take up a position in front of – and then between – each painting; you first have to be physically invested in it, imitating, in a way, the dynamic tussle between artist and material. To share the particular experience these artists invite us tojoin in, you have to be prepared to feel that “astonishment” which Baudelaire held dear as “one of the great pleasures caused by art,” 2 and concur with him that sometimes “artists whose methods are wholly opposed to each other can evoke the same ideas and stir up similar feelings in us.” 3
Let us allow this astonishment to make itself felt at our very core. Let us resist the temptation to contain it, to rationalize it; let us give in to it. And then, only then, will we be capable of distinguishing the different components in this gathering of works, able to assemble them in order to read what is expressed there, prepared to understand the meaning created by the Gagnon/Masino exhibition.
We are in the presence of an unusual pair of artists who, while producing their work separately, feel, from within, all of its artistic complicities, and have chosen to display, to compose, the narrative of their correspondences.
Two bodies of work, one genesis.
If, despite the differences between the two bodies of work intermingled in this exhibition, we sense a unity – or better yet, a chemistry – between them, explaining this impels us to look within the paintings themselves, to look in another way, to seek within the painting what existed before it was created.
The process of creating these stratified works consists of both successive additions of raw material – the layers of coloured wood or pigmented wax – and removals from that material – as it is worked with a router or blowtorch – until it finally reaches the transmuted material that expresses the original concept, as well as the ideas that have emerged and transformed that concept: a process that also reveals all the energy that went into executing these paintings, which proudly display the traces of their materialization.
Moreover, these works are stratified metaphorically: we have to scratch beneath the surface of Masino’s paintings to uncover their intrinsic references to art history, just as we have to carve into Gagnon’s paintings to revisit abstract painting.
Formally speaking, however, these two bodies of work remain different. Usually, this fact makes us think of them as two separate worlds. But that would mean disregarding another, fundamental, fact, namely that the artist is in a continuous relationship with his or her art, whether with or without the “tools” of creation in hand, whether standing in front of the painting or not. The artist’s thought process, research, influences by other artists and contacts with them, readings and development of specific techniques for the material chosen all contribute to the work – the production – of the painting we are viewing. Every creative endeavour derives from a composite, shifting genesis, a genesis nourished by a complex, sustained effort.
Correspondences arises out of this genesis and invites us to discover what it has yielded.
An overall reading of the exhibition will reveal that both artists are influenced by, among other things, a certain Eastern philosophy and aestheticism. We have already felt that the paintings send us back to our inner selves. That is, they assume their spirituality as much as their aesthetic materiality. For indeed, these are not ostentatious paintings we are looking at, but rather paintings that insinuate themselves into our entire being, reminding us that questions and mysteries are often more beneficial and enriching than answers and obvious facts. And so we are here both alone and accompanied, isolated and surrounded, lost and once again found: between viewer and painting, there is the empty space – the void – necessary for the development of a relationship that engages.
In Chinese, the expression mountain-water means, by extension, the landscape. … Mountain and water constitute, in the eyes of the Chinese, the two poles of nature. … The two poles of the universe correspond to the two poles of human sensibility. … In this context, to paint mountain and water is to paint the portrait of man –not so much his physical portrait (although this aspect is not absent) but more that of his mind and spirit. 4
In this exhibition, Gagnon and Masino offer us territories visited by their sensibilities and charted by their minds. That is why we do not see any division between a work by Gagnon and one by Masino, but rather, different expressions of the inner and outer territories they each cultivate.
To look at these landscapes is also to open up a window onto oneself. Again. And again. Because these landscapes are inexhaustible.
We will have met the twofold challenge proposed by Correspondences when we have deduced that it is actually just an illusion: in deciphering the real signs, we understand that the distances and proximities are subjectivities of the languages generated by two communicating artists.
Two artists, one couple; two studios, one stairway; paintings, a window. Between each, the essential void – for living, for creating.
Translated by Susan Le Pan
This catalogue text for the exhibition Correspondences was written at the request of the artists Yechel Gagnon and Alexandre Masino, with their complicity, and following extensive collaborative involvement in various projects, not to mention frequent, privileged ambles up and down the stairway between their respective studios.
Mélanie Beauregard teaches literature at Collège Édouard-Montpetit.
1. Octavio Paz, In Search of the Present: Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1990, trans. by Anthony Stanton, accessed at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1990/paz-lecture.html.
2. Quoted in Leo Bersani, Baudelaire and Freud (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 20.
3. Charles Baudelaire, “The Universal Exhibition of 1855,” in Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Artists, trans. by P.E. Charvet (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 120.
4. François Cheng, Empty and Full. The Language of Chinese Painting, trans. by Michael H. Kohn (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994), p. 84.
Copyright © Mélanie Beauregard