For several years now, Jean-Philippe Roy’s sculpture-based practice navigates notions of landscape: natural, architectural, fantastical or a combination of all three. Using a methodology that favours hybridization, assemblage and seemingly disparate visual elements, the artist works with the language of sculpture while questioning a genre that has long been part of the pictorial tradition of art.
Here, landscape is envisioned more broadly than as a simple representation of a given place. It evokes a notion of territory that refers to a subjective mental delineation as much as to a specific social, geographic or cultural context in which identities are developed and defined. As such, the artist investigates the preconception that national or ethnic identities are intimately linked to the land – an idea that also has been promoted in relation to landscape painting in Canada. And thus it is no surprise that we perceive some of the vernacular associated with the imagery of faraway regions, forested lands without a certain kind of provincial folklore. Anchored in contemporaneity, the kind of rural quality that Roy conveys is done with a straightforwardness that often eludes representation: the paddles on which a large sculpture is placed are lacquered as only industrial objects can be, and are characteristic of a geographically specific lifestyle. The same can be said for hunting traps or machinery frames: everyday signs that, when isolated, become relics of a culture that is often obscured by quaint visions of the countryside.
In both the sculptures and the works on paper, the numerous assembled elements act simultaneously as structuring units and as a vocabulary for the composition, creating meaning or at least a kind of narrative. This is how we read the gleaned North American Indigenous imagery and the Pre-Colombian arts, which being layered with different temporalities and places, broaden the notion of territory as a construction without exclusively relying on spatial-temporal definitions. The mixing of signs triggers an effect of strangeness that is often at play in Roy’s work, forcing an encounter of heterogeneous elements. Juxtaposed or melded into composite objects – this pyramid recalls a boat or a truck – the sculptures are midway between formal games and the construction of a mythology. The same goes for this life-size statue poised in perfect balance, at the confluence of the commonplace and the sacred. Between these two lexicons a tension emerges. It seems as much an intuitive and embodied experience of nature, tied to rural life, as it is linked to the doubting of national identities in the context of globalization. In the face of crumbling beliefs in the idea of a country as a structured and united whole, notions of identity linked to larger concepts are currently exploited. Here, it is Americanness in all the complexity of its founding myths. Paradoxically, this global outlook is often paired with an interest in the micro/local, as is the case for Roy with the specificities of his physical environment and human interactions.
In the corner of the gallery, a light box, mounted on very tall supports, almost touches the ceiling. It shows an arrangement that clearly recalls the shapes and colors of the Canadian flag. Placed close against the wall, it is revealed as a fragment that appears to continue beyond our field of vision. In this way, its symbolic status is reduced to a kind of pictorial abstraction; the only one in a universe of structures made of mass, matter and sculptural forms. The loop is closed anew; this surface of large, colourful zones is offered to us like an ultimate deconstruction of the landscape, invoking a fragmented territory pushed to the limits of its intelligibility and visibility.
Born in Quebec City, Jean-Philippe ROY lives in Saint-Marcellin in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region where he works as an artist and teaches at Cégep de Rimouski. For more than a decade, his artistic practice has concerned mainly drawing and sculpture. In 2006, he completed an MFA at Université Laval in which his thesis explored the notion of distance in sculpture and was awarded the Governor General of Canada’s gold medal. His work has been presented in residencies, solo and group exhibitions in Quebec, Canada and internationally. He has received several prizes and bursaries, notably the Vidéré at the Gala des prix de la Culture de la ville de Québec in 2005, the prix de l’artiste de la relève du Bas-Saint-Laurent in 2006 and the Prix à la création artistique en région du CALQ in 2013. For several years now, he has been producing public sculptures for the Programme d’intégration des arts à l’architecture. Eleven of his public artworks have been completed and installed now throughout Quebec.
Marie-Pier BOCQUET is an MFA candidate in Art History at UQAM and is currently the programming coordinator at Arprim, centre d’essai en art imprimé. A finalist for the Jeune critique competition at esse magazine in 2016, she is developing a career as an author and cultural worker. Since 2014, she has been on the editorial committee of the drawing magazine HB and has curated the exhibitions HB no. 6 / HORS PAGE, presented at Centre d’art et de diffusion Clark (2017) and Faire monde : regard sur les microcosmes de Catherine Magnan et d’Andréanne Gagnon at centre d’artistes Caravansérail (2014).