Stephane Larue: simplicity at its best

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Photo: MNBAQ

General view of the gallery

Most people feel comfortable when placed in front of a work of art produced some years, decades or centuries ago. This is so because. With timw, they have gotten to know the history and acquired the tools necessary for the appreciation of such works. The disorientation created by contemporary art can thus be dissipated by the same process of learning and familiarisation with circumstances and the particular vision of artists of our time.

Styles, defined as ways of doing things are, in our modern era, very diverse and many times very personal. This is a basic fact that we have to accept in order to appreciate the creation of our contemporaries. This is something that we have to keep in mind when visiting the exhibition of a selection of works by Stephane Larue now presented at the Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec. The exhibition is in the smallest gallery of the museum, yet it's of great importance because of the variety and the number of interrogations it raises. It is the perfect opportunity for a visitor to see contemporary art in a different way.

Indeed, the first impression that one gets when entering the room is that the artist has exhibited empty canvases. Of course that would not be acceptable. So, a closer look becomes necessary. Canvases and wooden panels are all painted yet some parts are left bear. Are the works abstract? Not really since we associate abstract art with forms, colors and lines creating a composition with no reference to traditional images. In most of the works, there are no lines, no forms and essentially one color: white. They are abstract in as much as we can associated them with other abstract works, more particularly to the radical simplicity of the first and most famous monochrome painting: White on white (1918) by Kasimir Malevich. Making such a reference is perfectly legitimate and surely Stephan Larue expects that. As a matter of fact, he did not take it badly when I mentioned the fact.

Except for the support, Larue does not really deal with geometric forms like Malevich did in his white painting. The similarity would then be the color white. Larue told me that he chooses white because he has no intention of exploiting neither the symbolism of colors nor the emotions that they can suggest. To this I said that "white is all the colors of the spectrum mixed together". "Yes, he said, this is true of the spectrum, not of the material: the paint." And there, he shares Malevich's idea of minimising color itself to focus more on the paint as a material.

Stephan Larue, however, goes a couple of steps further in his artistic development and this is what makes his work stand out in the world of contemporary art. He is obviously very concerned with every specific element that participates in his creations. He purposely lets us see the brush stroke in some, while in others the application of the paint is so fluid that it seems to have been lightly air brushed. Paint is so thinly applied that the texture of the canvas itself comes through. Parts of the support, as said earlier, are left uncovered to be seen for what it is and further observations lead the viewer to see that the shape of the support, as well, participates in the creative process. The support, as an element in its own right, thus takes on an importance that it seldom has in traditional paintings. Last but not least, light is the element that makes visible all of the fine details and creates the shadows that stress the slight irregularities in the frames on which some canvases are stretched.

"I often paint while listening to music, he says, and to me all the elements of my works are like musicians. They each have their individuality, and it's important that they do, yet together they bring into being something that is one: a work of art." Music is important to Stephane Larue. He dedicated a series of seven frames to Morton Feldman who, among other innovations, used grids in his scores in lieu of the traditional musical notations. Listening to Feldman's music, he draws lines of what he hears. This is not unusual at all. Music is what expresses at best the spiritual life of an artist. Rarely does it reproduce nature. Instead, it mostly gives life to musical sounds. And so, artists who care to express their inner world turn to music, the most abstract art form, to do so.