Jean Gaudreau Exhibition at the Ophélia Restaurant

Jean Gaudreau Exhibition at the Ophélia Restaurant

By Daydree Vendette

The Ophélia restaurant on Grande-Allée is architecturally stunning. It’s charm goes beyond gimmicky decoration and grounds itself in a thoughtful symbiosis of the historical and the modern. The cracked brick walls remind patrons of the history of the city and the newer elements like hexagonal marble tile reference French bistros but their oversized dimensions and stark white colour push visitors still forward into modernity. The beautiful marble bar space, and wood floors create metaphorical scaffolding to prop up what might otherwise crumble. The space is thoughtful, and quirky where history demands it.

I went on a crowded March evening to view Jean Gaudreau’s series of paintings in hommage to Jean Paul Lemieux. Even in a space packed wall to wall with people appreciative of being plied with champagne, the sense of being in an open space where private moments are still possible struck me immediately.

Jean Paul Lemieux is built into the collective unconscious of Quebec. I first remember seeing a work by Lemieux shortly after arriving in the province. I was 9 and my father, who had some work to finish, brought us to his office, a pharmaceutical company in Montreal. I remember being very struck by the art and exclaiming to my father about it. But having grown up in the province, the face shapes and the depiction of snow as never-ending whiteouts seemed almost banal to him.

And now I understand as I have seen Lemieux’s work on postcards, book covers, posters and museum walls. I have seen cheap prints and high-quality reproductions. I have seen Lemieux’s work on so many visits to the Musée des Beaux Arts du Québec that on my most recent visits I skipped Lemieux’ oeuvre altogether. Lemieux has permeated every strata of society. His work does not need a name or a time to ground it. If we see it, something in us says, “Oh yes, that”.

Jean Gaudreau’s series of paintings Lemieux Vu par Gaudreau could be considered a brave undertaking were it not treated with a sincere love of the artist and the work. To remake and interpret Lemieux can be interpreted as asking to be compared to him, to establish links with him and with his significance to a population that has integrated the imagery into its fiber.

Each of Gaudreau’s works has a different conversation with Lemieux’s; an update or a copy or an element transposed always digs in a little deeper down:

Gaudreau’s Les Amoureux sexualizes Lemieux’s L’adieu. Where Lemieux has endless snow and silhouettes of lovers embracing, Gaudreau’s rendering is fiery yellow and has the very literal female body mis à nu. What makes this conversation between both works fascinating is how the audience reads Gaudreau’s interpretation. Has Gaudreau simply taken the figures out of the snow and put them in the sun? Are we seeing the explosion of passion that Lemieux can only hint at, in an impressionist élan by Gaudreau? Is Gaudreau imagining Lemieux’s work without pudeur. I think this work strikes me as the most daring because it could so easily walk into being casually kitschy for it’s cute vulgarity. It’s almost there but the context and the sincere expression of passion are just too honest for anyone to pan the work.

I stayed almost an hour looking at my favorite piece, Gaudreau’s Visiteur Observée. It is inspired by Lemieux’s Visiteur du Soir.

The piece can stand as a representation for Gaudreau’s whole series of paintings. As the artist explained, Lemieux was an inspiration to the young Gaudreau, for who Lemieux was an example of a living artist who was a success and was making a living with their art. To have Gaudreau’s work displayed in the Ophélia restaurant, a place once inhabited by Lemieux is quite eerie

The figures in the painting can be read as Lemieux in a whited-out foreground and Gaudreau as a child peeking out at his hero from the right of the painting. The sense of time and space slip from the painting. One figure may be outside and the other inside. The time of day seems different, the proportions are off so it is impossible to say if they inhabit the same universe or if both figures inhabit the same space by way of collage.

The composition of the painting is complex and gorgeous. The eye gets drawn to the whited-out figure by creating an eye-line from the figure on the right to the figure in white. The impression of chaos at the bottom of the painting, initially makes the viewer reject the lower part of the painting and focus on the white area of the painting. Pencil marks converge to draw the eye where the artist intends. Texture in the form of a rectangle in relief is employed to draw the eye up and created a place for the viewer to hang on to.

When the viewer is done examining the top of the painting, the eye gets drawn down to the lower left-hand side that reads Le Visiteur vertically with the final R separated and placed horizontally, landing with what feels like a thud on the painting. And once you are in that bottom region the chaos breaks apart into vibrant colours that beg to get lost in and analysed.

I got lost in this painting. I perched on the stairs and stared for too long and was moved to tears. It is a meditation on time and space, on place in a historical context, and in the context of being rooted to a place and being emotionally drawn to it.

For Gaudreau to come back and place his hommage to the artist in the artists home seems less a request for recognition from the public and more a way for Gaudreau to recognize his elder’s contribution to his life. If places are imbued with energy and ghosts often stick around their homes, I like to think about Lemieux catching a glimpse of Gaudreau’s work and knowing that Gaudreau is trying to reach back and say thank you for the inspiration and I can imagine how meaningful it is for Gaudreau to hang his work in the space that Lemieux lived.

We can all move forwards and backwards in the same way that Gaudreau does in this painting and there is something desperately beautiful about that experience. The Gaudreau Vu par Lemieux exhibition is an example of time folding in on itself through art and emotion.

The paintings remain on view at the Ophélia restaurant until mid-April.


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Categories: Arts & Culture, Reviews

About Author

Daydree Vendette

Daydree Vendette is passionate about all things that spread good vibes like animals, yoga, her rock collection, vegan food and creative expression in all forms. She has a master’s degree in literature and is a nerd searching for a field of study to latch onto next. She works as a technical writer and translator while pursuing other creative projects. She should travel more.

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