At the Republic Gallery to May 8
Nonchalance is a word that Samuel Roy-Bois uses to describe his unexpected new paintings. By this, he seems to mean artless and unstudied. In a recent conversation with the Straight at the Republic Gallery, Roy-Bois drew a comparison between this work and snapshots. The paintings are executed very quickly, he said, “in one shot”.
Titled Candid, the show is a surprising departure from the large-scale, immersive, and interactive installations for which Roy-Bois is best known. Still, this versatile artist, whose practice embraces sculpture, drawing, music, and performance art, was a painter at the beginning of his career. His first exhibition, which took place in his native Quebec City when he was 19, was of paintings. After that, he gave up the medium for nearly 16 years.
“I was looking for”¦something that was not so defined as ”˜art’,” Roy-Bois says. “And all my installations are dealing with that, with elements of objects or situations that are not ”˜artistic’ but, within a certain context, become a reason to question certain things.” The new paintings, executed in spray-can, Day-Glo colours on roughly cut panels of coarse-grained plywood, are also intended to be seen as objects first, before we see them as artworks.
Through their materials and markings, they suggest construction sites and work-related notations sprayed on sidewalks and hoardings. The paintings bear a relationship both to Roy-Bois’s past installations and to the everyday fact of ceaseless real-estate development within our urban environment.
These works consist of sprayed lines, grids, and jots in black or fluorescent pink, orange, or yellow laid down on a white ground. Although speed is a significant factor in their execution, there is a paradoxical exactitude here, a determination to find just the right combination of formal elements. Roy-Bois may paint over each work some 20 or 30 times, the evidence of this process remaining visible through the top layer of pigment. In untitled (four pink lines), for instance, dark stars form quizzical shadows beneath the final image: vertical pink lines on a white surface.
Although produced without any painterly inflection, Roy-Bois’s paintings aren’t actually flat: texture is created through the grain, knots, and splinters of the plywood. The hand-drawn lines are wobbly and approximate, varying in width and in the degree to which the paint has been either atomized or concentrated. In untitled (pink grid), a mist of Day-Glo pink has settled into the grain of the wood, creating an accidental wavy effect.
Also on view are black-on-white paintings on paper, whose repetitive zigzags produce an unintended connection to optical art. There are four text-based paintings on poster-sized pieces of paper here, too, their words lodging somewhere between personal declaration and concrete poetry. And finally, Roy-Bois is exhibiting small pages out of a Moleskine notebook; the names, phone numbers, and lists written in his tidy hand are again a kind of snapshot, a small, candid view into the artist’s recent home renovations. Like other work here, these notes are haunted by the ceaseless round of construction and reconstruction—the building and demolishing and rebuilding that define this time and place.