What are these works? First and foremost, they are “scapes.” Not only landscapes, but also configurations of Johanne Hémond’s interior world. To enter into her paintings is to explore a realm inspired by equal parts emotional resonance and site-specific geographies and geometries.
Nearly the entirety of two walls of Hémond’s most recent exhibit at the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria (CACGV) gallery are consecrated to scenes inspired the natural world. The third wall extends beyond the physical to an environment inhabited uniquely by mood. In total, a remarkable 27 paintings are displayed.
Hémond’s paintings are a logical extension of her earlier photographic work. Just around the corner from the gallery space featuring her paintings, one wall of a long corridor with a ramp descending to tennis and squash courts is adorned with highly fluid and dynamic photographs of tennis, squash and badminton players from various tournaments at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.
To borrow a phrase from Gary Panter, painting is first and foremost the act of “putting paint.” But this largely self-taught Montreal native, a Victorian for the last eleven years, additionally applies aggressive swathes of drywall compound to create varying degrees of accentuated relief. Texture is as much a part of her paintings’ settings as are colour and composition, all of which are often inspired by aerial photographs—terrestrial forms of obscure origin.
There is a deliberate counterpoint to the ordering of Hémond’s works on the abstract wall, a rhythm punctuated through the juxtaposition of large and small canvasses next to one another. What their subject matter holds in common is uncommonality. Each conveys a mood entirely its own, with the exception of “Aerial View I and II”, paired on either side of the larger canvas “Male/female.”
Many of Hémond’s paintings use a combination of just two or three colours. Within this limited palette, resonances of black and white photography are present, as is an exploration of tonal range that merits close attention. The “Ocean” series in particular captures the sombre spirit of coastal overcast skies. Similarly, “Forest I and II” are a meditation on the ambient green rainforests of Vancouver Island, while “Scape Series I-V” capture various states of mountainous abstraction, with Scape Series V proving the most elusive of the batch.
The “Black & White Series,” “Female/Male” and “Male/Female” are subtly charged reflections on gender, sexuality and eroticism. “Au Feminen I” is the most outstanding work in the exhibit, and is rightly identified as “not for sale.” This work is Johanne Hémond at her best—its boldness promises a future direction that could yield extraordinarily powerful results.
“Figure” is a treatise on loneliness; its composition leaves the viewer with an uneasy discomfort. There is a flatness and unfinished quality to the work that makes it distinct as a part of Hémond’s portfolio. For this reason, it is deserving of its own wall. The painting’s relative dominance in size (30” X 40”) compared with Hémond’s other works makes it a curious addition in an already impressively varied show.
Hémond’s artist statement says much about her approach to art and to life: it is inspired by a symmetry and poetry springing from remarkable depth of feeling and intuition:
While Johanne Hémond’s choices suggest a tremendous breadth of talent within the acrylic medium, they simultaneously suggest a lack of focus—though not an absence of vision. This is an outstanding early exhibit, and we can only look forward to better things to come.
Video by Efren Quiroz, exhibit-v.
The open house for Hémond’s exhibit was accompanied by the musical duo “Beat ‘n Black ‘n Blue,” a soulful pair with Bruce Cobanli on acoustic guitar, and Roderick Deschênes on the cajón, a box-shaped wooden percussion instrument from South America.) Their repertoire included rhythm ‘n blues and gospel classics, and provided an uplifting atmosphere throughout the evening.