Guy Laramée | Artist Interview
Guy Laramée | In Conversation
Foster/White Gallery: Within your paintings and sculptures, you create a world that feels timeless, serene, transcendent, and ephemeral. However, you have said that much of what you are exploring is the erosion of culture. Your work conveys a sense of calm acceptance. Are you at peace with the erosion of culture? How did you arrive there?
Guy Laramée: You know, we artist do our best to fit our work into this literate culture of ours. But it is always a compromise. I opted for this "erosion of culture" idiom when I started this line of book work, because I thought it was a good way to connect with our collective preoccupations in the beginning of the 21st century. But it was obvious from the start that my paintings didn’t fit into that frame.
Guy Laramée, L'Enigme, carved book with stand, 7 x 20.5 x 9 inches
Today I’m not sure I want to stick to that, as the only way to read my work. Recently I did a TED talk where I offered the word ‘contemplation' as another window onto art. I think that given the fact that the art world overcame its allergy to the term (…) we are now granted the permission to use that word again. To me contemplation - and contemplative art - is about fusion. You and the thing become one. And with that comes a feeling of relief. The disconnection is over.
F/WG: You are an accomplished and recognized composer and author, have contributed to stage productions, and have developed various inter-disciplinary platforms – all in addition to your work as a painter and sculptor. How is your current work influenced by the wide variety of disciplines you have worked in?
GL: I've just finished the giant 40 feet long scroll that is the result of my pandemic diary, the Toilet Paper Diary. It is a mix of sculpture (the toilet paper volcanoes, done during the first wave), of installation (the 22 sets that I made during the second wave), of stage lighting (each installation is nothing without its specific light atmosphere), of photography (each set was photographed and is now blended into one single image - 30 feet long), of poetry - each tableau comes with a haiku-like poetic line, the story of this 21st century panic, and of printing and virtuoso book binding. It is a full interdisciplinary project, dealing with our mental states during the crisis - the panic, more than what we were sold as ‘facts'. It was quite a thrill to go back to stage design and stage lighting. Although everything was miniature scale, the same principles used on stage guided the project. AND there was even a performative aspect: I gave myself a maximum of one week for each tableau. That was a solid six months of shooting. No wonder I’m exhausted...
F/WG: In speaking about the increasing technology-driven insularity within Euro-American cultures a few years ago, you arrived at a place of removed observance and curiosity. Now, as individuals are even more engaged with the screens in their hands and removed from their immediate surroundings, what are your reflections?
GL: I just think we’re heading right into a wall, at 100 miles an hour. It will hurt… The next wave is of mental illness, a general feeling of disconnection, remorse, unspeakable anguish and depression. We’re already feeling it, don’t we?
Very soon it will be imperative to start rebuilding the social fabric and breaking the dependency on screens. I’m not sure we can do it. The younger generations don’t even know they are addicted. I’m a bit pessimistic, I have to confess...
A key factor in this rebuilding will be the ability some of us have - will need - to take people by the hand and introduce them again to the third dimension… As basic as that. In that I include guiding people through an exhibition of paintings. The 2D of an actual painting has nothing to do with the 2D of a screen. We’ll have to realize that once more. That will be difficult, but absolutely crucial for our mental sanity.
Guy Laramée, Mariage, oil on canvas, 50 x 65 inches
F/WG: We are intrigued to learn more about your processes when creating your book sculptures; how do you maintain the integrity of the pages as you carve into them? Do you know ahead of time what you will be carving, or is it a fluid response to the material?
GL: Yes I do maintain the integrity of the pages - nothing is glued, never. Sometimes I get a feeling of what is coming, but most of the time, the process makes sure that not much of the premises will be preserved…! If you want to speak about the erosion of culture, here’s one: All of my ideas end up in the trash bin…
F/WG: What are your favorite ways to immerse yourself in natural beauty?
GL: I’m not sure what you mean by natural beauty. An ashtray can be quite beautiful… If you mean what is untouched by man, well… there’s not much of that left… and anyway, you’re always in the picture, aren’t you. Everything has to pass through you in order to come to existence. So there’s no beauty outside ourselves. We feel as if it comes from outside: beautiful objects, gorgeous landscapes, etc. But that’s an illusion.
To me what we call beauty is an expression of the contemplative state. Agreed, some like me find it easier to let ourselves be swallowed by the situation when we are in a non-urban setting. Okay. But that’s the end of it; in other words, it is only a matter of predilection, There’s nothing in the untamed world that is really more beautiful. I don’t really believe myself saying what I just said (!) but I had to say it…
Three views of Guy Laramée's sculpture, La Maison des Vents (The House of Wind), his tribute to the 140th anniversary of the organ builder Casavant Frères - and below, Laramée's book sculpture by the same name
F/WG: Do you have important rituals in the studio, or ways that you ground yourself in the midst of creative investigation?
GL: Nope. No rituals, it’s a total mess. Creation takes over and I become its slave. I’m no longer in possession of my mind or my body. The last project was rather painful in that regard. The Covid Power took over and I found myself working like a demon, sometimes begging for it to stop… It was insane. And yet there was no way for me to resist it.
F/WG: What have you found to bring you the most comfort while we have all been dealing with the changes Covid-19 has brought to our lives?
GL: Work and meditation.
Work gave me a purpose - to try to make sense of that crisis through art. This crisis opened up new avenues for me, it gave me the license to step out of my usual tracks. But it did so with such force that before and after each day, I needed to go back to the ground, the solace from which all this emerges.
So as desperate and fierce as this impulse to work was, as desperate and fierce was my time spent on the meditation cushion.
And now I feel I need to ponder about this creative energy, once more. There’s a drug aspect, an addiction in creative work that one has to examine once in a while. This is something I tackled in the TED talk. Where does it come from, this need for "new" things?
Is this really what it is about?
To learn more about Guy Laramée and to see available works, please visit his page.