Lyse Lemieux: Soldiers and Vesperers

At Chernoff Fine Art until May 15

A few years ago, Lyse Lemieux created a beautiful and ambitious mixed-media installation that employed clothing as a surrogate for the human body and a symbol of creative transformation. In her new show at Chernoff Fine Art, transformation is enacted directly on the body.

The first series of works, “Soldiers”, consists of 13 small watercolour drawings, each of a faceless soldier in mottled silhouette. Lined up along one wall, facing in the same direction, the figures communicate various conditions of loss and, the artist suggests in her statement, shame. Forms are abstracted almost to the point of pictographs, yet they remain highly expressive. Composed of layered washes of black pigment, each figure suggests evolution into the next. Some rifles are held at shoulder height as if about to be fired, others are lowered, becoming variously crutches and phalluses, salutes and gestures of defeat.

In one instance, a sticklike leg reads as a peg or prosthetic. In another, a rifle/crutch appears to grow directly out of a soldier’s head, as much an appendage of manhood as the organ that hangs between his legs. Lemieux is clearly making an antiwar statement here, but her depictions of soldiers are neither harsh nor condemning. Rather, they are filled with pity and an awareness of the trauma that is done by and to beings who are flung into combat.

“Vesperers” plays on both the French and English words, denoting evensong or evening service. In her statement, Lemieux describes both title and work as suggesting a “state of light and mind, late afternoon when it is neither day nor night—a liminal moment”. The four large digital paintings on view are pale grey monochromes, so misty and inchoate that the images within them—three faces and a suggestion of sexual union—are barely discernible. There’s the sense that, viewed at some greater distance, the features and expressions might coalesce. In this small gallery, however, their cloudy ambiguity—the difficulty of clearly reading them—becomes their purpose. They’re about expressing the inexpressible.