A master of the art of etching, and proponent of the artist’s book, Louis-Pierrre Bougie is an artist’s artist. His art approaches the human condition from an existential, often challenging point of view. Amid the theatric of his graphic works and paintings, we find expressions of anomie. The exchange is all about the humans, and their interactions. Like fragments of a fresco his art reveals as much by omission as by the gestures, facial expressions, the scenarios. We are party to a way of seeing that is uniquely Bougie. The theatrics, the hypothetical enigmas, and illusionary effects offer us a glimpse of the condition humans are in.
In a way, Louis-Pierre Bougie’s real struggle has been to advance the visual dialogue in Quebec’s arts scene, for while Paul-Emile Borduas proposed an abstract automatisme during the period of Quebec’s Révolution tranquille it became a stifling historical tautology. Ultimately artists’ spectrum of creative approaches was reduced by the “legend” of automatiste art. The same was true of the reductive conformity of Les Plasticiens in the 1960s. So while there are hints of a dream-like Surrealism (one of the sources for Bourduas’ earliest sous-marin works), Louis-Pierre Bougie is much more preoccupied with expressing social dynamics. His art builds freely associative mindscapes with the figures he juxtaposes in the graphic contexts he creates. Bougie is not a realist, not a landscape painter, not an abstractionist. He fits more closely into a language that is human, like Alberto Giacometti, Jose Luis Cuevas, or Francis Bacon. The question remains is it all about the human condition or the conditioned human? And who is watching who?
The lines in a Louis-Pierre Bougie artwork are like graphic strings connecting a Kafka-esque regime of social checks and counter-checks. The balance is in the space that surrounds each linear scripted scenario.
Louis-Pierre Bougie is technically a master of printmaking, and his works recall Marcel Gromaire’s for the intensity and density of the blacks inked onto the plates and eventual print editions. An Untitled soft ground etching from 2002 with its triptych of momentary figures as if part of a larger series builds its drama silently in black inked areas, arm gestures, and portrait stances. The sense we are witness to scenes in an ongoing theatre of life. Like Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of horses in motion, the way Bougie works a form describes the space that surrounds it, almost three-dimensionally. Sometimes the sense of isolation, of being contained within one’s own thought structures which become the space that surrounds recall Francis Bacon’s portraits.
Representation becomes an act of memory, for it builds memory synthetically wearing visual experience like a set of clothes.
The Suite Parisienne (2004) offers brief fragments, like leaves from a book of life, mere glimpses rendered with graphic sophistication. Figure forms appear and disappear like the wind. You only catch a brief instance. The instant is the realization.
Space plays a role, not only the figures within. Space becomes an existential metaphor for emotional and social distance. The ghost is in the machine’s design. These people are webbed into, entangled within, an all encompassing circuitry that existed before they were born and will continue to exist after they are gone. As the poet and art historian Herbert Read once commented referencing existentialism:
“The Existentialist tends to see in art an expression of human freedom – an act of constructive defiance in the face of an annihilating reality.” -Herbert Read in Contemporary British Art (1964)
In a work like Le Coeur Gris (2007), one figure is a mere silhouette while the second on the left is a kind of organic meta-system with another figure/thought within its head. The feeling is of a will towards something, and of the impossibility of realizing desire in its totality. The human condition suggests humans are conditioned by the shape of their associations, their premeditated yet constant desires, wishes. Everything passes so quickly there is a sadness in this sense the theatre goes beyond the humans within it. It is a kid of perpetuity Falubert might have understood.
Nature figures as a kind of alter-ego or parallel imagistic world for the human psyche in Bougie’s art. Early pieces like Comme des Garcons de Café (1981) already develop a multiple layering of movement, gesture. Like visual notations each element – the moving waters, the fish, the more abstract circles and linear scratches and depths make this a dynamic work reminiscent of Cuevas.
Often the absence or reduced use of colour in Louis-Pierre Bougie’s art creates a tonality that generates a mood space. There are aspects of the events, the scripting of the visuals on Bougie’s paintings as well as his graphics that challenge our sense of self and other. We look into these works only to realize the forms, nature, human, animals, universal, are performance-like, part of a scenario of life we can never capture in totality. We feel these figures could walk out of the frame they exist in so tendentiously. Totem I has a dig at its base, and acrobatic gyrating figures build upwards until they become pale shadows, disappearing silhouettes in space. The non-space that surrounds the piece, as with many of Bougie’s graphics build the sense of inner worlds, that each world fiolds out of another. Some ecological allusions, that we are a part of nature exist in Racines (2010) where a figure stands atop another… roots growing underneath. A ceremonial gestures, a totemic leaf, and one separated vivid red head. The suggestion is of one generation’s sacrifice building the next – all temporal, ever changing, never entirely contained, or achieved.
Louis-Pierre has received a lot of notoriety in Europe, even lived in Paris, printing with renowned studios there. His residency experience encompasses Portugal, Poland, Ireland, Finland and New York. His artist’s book repertoire has involved an interweaving of text and image, often breaking new ground internationally. Entre deux eaux (Éditions de la Griffe d’Acier, 1992) These projects include: Forger l’effroi (Éditions de la Griffe d’Acier, 1987), Terminus Nord (Atelier Circulaire, 1990), Flou comme la nuit (Ed. Bonfort et Eric Devlin, 2000) and Les mots griffonnés (Michel van Schendel, 2010). To explore the visual vernacular of Bougie’s Artist’s Books is to explore a visual and textural totality.
Above all, Bougie’s visual language involves us as viewers, and challenges the uncomfortable utopias of consumer society we are part of. He offers, instead a sense of private worlds, gestural continuities, and abandons the archaisms of abstraction or even figuration. His is a cohesive creative approach, always resolved, the forms itself out of forms, textures, contrasts, and the immediacy that a graphic universe can realize. This tonal and complex world is Bougie’s. One realizes the dialogue between Louis-Pierre Bougie and Francois-Xavier Marange has equally added a cultural density to the totality of Bougie’s vision. Each artist fed the other over the years. It wasn’t cannibalism. It was reification and exchange!
Life, Lines and Works, Louis-Pierre Bougie’s show at 1700 La Poste in Montreal (2013-2014), generated a body of shaped paintings and iron sculpture assemblages. The three-dimensional sculptures echoed Bougie’s textural graphic sensibility as did the shaped assemblages and paintings. Colours became more pronounced and the show expanded Bougie’s repertoire. There is a great intensity to the works seen at 1700 La Poste.
A foray into sculpture, involved recycling using iron railway ties. The forms had a figuration to them, whether the head-like shapes emerging out of a repetition and patternings. Still other forms that recall bio-culture and nature. All these works generate a sense as graphic as Louis-Pierre Bougie’s aquatints, etchings, and paintings. Less flattened and with a near Pop sense, these multi-media wall works and paintings includes themes drawn from the 1980s studies of people adjacent to each other, yet contained, seemingly incapable of communicating. Still other wal works innovate with birds, geese, people, all patched into a holistic assemblage idiom. These works are fun exposes of humans and their connectedness to nature in all its variation. Nature forms become a way of binding the humans within these shaped painted universes. The matrices are fluid, playful, and gestural truths surface bringing humans back into a cosmos, a universe that holds us and the rest together. Another shaped painting unfolds a fragmentary universe like an inner body. With its visual cues, iconographic details and scripted painterly phrasing Bougie’s art reflects a bio-specificity that is at once personal and universal. As in many of Bougie’s artworks the elements all coalesce to realize a dream state space. This is art that reifies and realizes an essential chroma-chronology of all things visual. For Bougie understands the visuality of his vision without words, without interceptors, for he identifies with life almost intuitively, and life is the source and subject of his art.
Universe shape at random, elements coalesce, visuality winds and unwinds, forms exist in tandem with each other. And so Bougie understands time, its passage, and all the imagistic. Appearances and disappearances all build this temporal theatre. And it speaks of love from the most elemental perspective, seeking to exchange with us viewers a brief patch of the existence we are given. With the technique of a master, Louis-Pierre Bougie describes existence. It is a place where nothing can ultimately be measured or rationalized, for Louis-Pierre Bougie is not a conformist, instead he is an eccentric in the good sense of the word. The visuality of Louis-Pierre’s art with all its flux and variation brings life to life.
-John K Grande