Following his solo exhibitions in London and Toronto and many international contemporary art fairs in the United States and Europe; Yoakim Bélanger is back in Montréal to present his new exhibition “Work in Progress” which will be held at Galerie LeRoyer (GLR24 at 24 Saint-Paul Street W.) from October 26th to November 16th, 2017.
To mark this occasion, we took a trip to his studio to get a behind-the-scenes view of both his artistic process and the new series.
So, what is the difference between this exhibition and the previous ones? “Well, I just turned 40”, Bélanger answers, smiling.
His hair is salt and pepper and seems to have a mind of its own, his look is steady, intent, and portrays a sense of equanimity as he welcomes us in the immense space he calls his studio. The space is adorned with a dozen scattered paintings, a sofa, a few stools covered in paint, an espresso machine and a number of plants. Paint buckets, sketches and studies on paper litter the walls and floor. Years worth of green tape, which he methodically uses to create the backgrounds of his pieces, is recycled and piled onto a plastic mannequin that is placed on a pedestal. The whole scene speaks volumes about the hours spent in this space. Positive quotes are sporadically inscribed here and there on the walls, like reminders: “Happiness is to continue to desire what one possesses.”
A sense of ease sets in and one wants to scrutinize everything and scour every corner; it is hard to deny the sheer creativity and bubbling of ideas that seems to inhabit the studio. Despite the sensory overload, there is an imminent order to it all, a certain control, proper to Bélanger.
Most striking - is his humility and candor - qualities which, one must admit, are not always synonymous with the word “artist”. When asked, Bélanger recognizes that it is necessary to work on one’s ego, adding that the worst thing that can happen is to become the image of oneself.
The exhibition “Work in Progress” is composed of portraits; faces with no gaze that are depersonalized and universal. It is the form and the abstraction of the portrait that absorbs Bélanger. As his portraits are devoid of any academic representation, they are indifferent to age, skin color and origin, the emotions emanate as the material, the bold colours and hints of figuration coalesce.
Metal has always been Bélanger’s material of choice; hard and cold to the human eye - yet once engraved, it is transformed by the artist into the “skin” of his work, and suddenly breathes and appears alive. The paint, the vibrant colours and Bélanger’s expressive strokes enable the subject to emerge on the textured surface of the metal, unveiling the essence of his work: the human form, always on the verge of abstraction.
One of the great rebels of the seventh art, David Lynch, is framed on the wall of the workshop, like an emblem. When asked why, Bélanger replies that he is intrigued by the imprint of mystery in Lynch’s work and his devotion to darkness and the dream state. When asked to elaborate further, it is revealed that, Bélanger’s fascination with the famed director lies in his perpetual search for what the human soul conceals.
This is a continuous question in Bélanger’s new series “Work in Progress”. He draws upon themes, from mythology - “Oracle”, “Midas” - and from contemporary and political subjects - “Black Lives Matter”, “The man who burns”. The main theme however, is “metamorphosis”, much like an amphibian that transforms into a completely different form in adulthood.
It is not by chance that the pivotal piece in this exhibition is entitled “Puberty”. The young girl portrayed in this painting carries the hope of humanity, with all of its contradictions and beauty. She literally radiates, bringing hope and light to the omnipresence of the dark.
At this stage of his life, Bélanger tackles his medium uninhibited, no longer striving for perfection, accepting the imperfect aspects as an integral part of the material. The work will thus continue to change with time, alive and evolving much like the human face.
“My children and my spouse help me keep my feet on the ground,” he says bluntly, admitting that they are the keystone of his personal stability. When one is born a Libra, harmony is an element that one tends to seek. Balance is juggled with work and family, shadow and light, abstraction and figuration, individual and community.
In search of equilibrium, again and always.
Forty years old? “I leave the wounds of childhood gradually. It is as though I assume my role and responsibilities as an adult and my status as an artist. I may have grown up.” Similar to his works, Bélanger is, as well, a “Work in Progress”.