Joani Tremblay

Joani Tremblay’s paintings are composite representations of the socially constructed ideas about the visual experience of different landscapes. In her reflections on the shared and disparate experiences of these sites, the language of traditional landscape painting is expanded to encompass the wide variations of a sense of place.

Tremblay lives and works in Montreal, Canada.

What initially drew you to landscape as a style or genre?

I grew up in the countryside, where my parents had a cabin. We would go there every weekend and all summer long. There was nobody around, I would spend my time with my sister or I would be alone. I remember when the Backstreet Boys came out we had no idea, I came back to school and it was a thing (laughs). I would run around and simply be in the landscape. To me, this also represents a psychological landscape.

I do research about the land that I paint. The work usually comes from being curious about a site, architecture, or the idea of a site. I look into advertising and social media, and the ways that people might portray a place, then I’ll create visual collages, and then I move onto painting. For example, in 2017-2018, before I had even been to California, I was thinking about what it represents and how artists have portrayed it in the past–their color palettes, formally, etc.

We perceive place on many different fronts, how does collage fit into landscape or capturing a sense of place?

It takes quite a while to actually start working after the research, and ideally I’ll go to the place. I don’t prefer working from a photograph or even en plein air, it’s just not what I do. In Canada, we have The Group of Seven–similar to the Hudson Valley School–and I really try to step away from that style. Before going to Arcosanti, Arizona, I found countless Instagram influencers who would post pictures of the landscape, as well as old and newer forms of advertising for the town. After going to Arcosanti, it took me months to get started on an actual painting because the photographs are so visually striking. They look so much like paintings, which is difficult to make digital collages from! The site was made in the 1970s, and the idea was for it to be this “utopic” micro-city, and around 70 people still actually live there. But of course, it was really only a utopia for the architect, Paolo Soleri, whose daughter recently came forward with allegations that he abused her as a child, and the foundation attempted to cover it all up. His wife also did much of the work, but is never recognized as his equal–when she died a lot of the construction stopped because she coordinated everything–and a huge portion of labor was under the internship model, so much of it was done for free because you “got the opportunity to learn from a master” for a year. It’s all very problematic, and I wanted to reflect what I felt I had uncovered while I was there. I began to layer the collages in a way where the viewer is outside of the idealized landscape, almost entrapped by this dark border. They are windows that constrain.

You mention time as a major part of your process. Can you talk about how you work with things taking a lot of time to come to fruition?

Well, what first comes to mind is that it’s hard! (laughs). And of course, oil paint naturally dries slowly, but making the digital collages is a quick process. I can make about a hundred of those at a time and then I’ll choose a couple that really work. Often, I do need some distance from research, so I’ll continue painting another project while the research is on a backburner. I need that distance between the place that I’m looking into and the place that I live. I try to get to a rather general idea of the place that I’m working with.

Does the city environment lend itself to this work or do you need a personal relationship with a landscape?

Good question. The architectural aspects of the paintings are from actual structures. I’ll select certain structures from a series of photographs and add them to the collages as if they are elements of the landscape. I’m not so interested in the compositions that cities offer, and there’s a certain depth in landscape. I would say, though, that even the California work is more precisely Los Angeles, which still offers beaches and mountains, a lot of sky.

I traveled a ton by myself between sixteen and eighteen. I lived in Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Costa Rica, so I’ll mix a lot of these experiences into my work. I think about how everything seems to be tinted that warm gray in Paris, how everything is washed out in California. I have all of these images of places, colors and light.

How do your sculptures and paintings interact?

I’ll show sculptures or installations in my solo shows as a way to activate the space. I love painting, but I sometimes think that solo painting shows tend to look too commercial. When you activate the space, not only are you doing the same to the body of the viewer, which is important in relation to viewing the paintings, but it can also be more playful. I like to put the sculptures almost too close to the painting, to where it’s almost annoying or appears to be in the way. For my last show, What Makes Life Worth Living, at Projet Pangée, in Montreal, I placed around two hundred lemons directly in front of the main painting, so that viewers had to kind of hop around the lemons in order to get closer to it.

Is there anything that you would change about the process of working with galleries?

There are so many interesting models to work with. I’m personally interested in artist-run galleries and project spaces because the community is usually more involved. Showing in gallery settings that are run by artists is just so much more fun; the community aspect is at the forefront. There certainly are gallerists who are able to do this too but it’s quite a talent. Harper’s who I’m working with is one of them.

I would change the fact that these artist-run spaces don’t have a bigger place within the market, often it’s these spaces that find important emerging artists who are then absorbed by the commercial gallery system. These artist-run spaces should be more supported by the general market somehow as they are very necessary for the communities they create. I actually opened Projet Pangée, in Montreal, with my good friend. I left about three years ago, but she still runs it. I learned a lot about working horizontally, about paying the people who you work with well, and feeling as if we are all at the same level.

Do you have a dream project?

I’m pretty happy right now. I’ve had a steady couple of years of shows that I’m very excited about. I’ve shown with artists that I really like, so I guess I’m excited for things to continue! I’m currently working on a solo at Harper’s in New York in March 2021 and will be a resident at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) residency in New York in winter 2021 & 2022. A dream project would involve more installation. I want huge paintings that could stand on their own and become installations themselves.

Do you have an experiential or narrative goal in mind while working on a solo show (not that these things are mutually exclusive)?

I strive for an experience. Which is interesting considering all of the research that I do, I don’t pretend that I’m saying precisely what California or Arcosanti is, I know that it’s my own tiny vision of the moment. When I see shows, I don’t care so much about reading the text given, I might read it later if I’m really interested, it’s about the visual language. To me, the best shows are when you feel something strongly–negative or positive–and I’m hoping to offer that in my shows. Earlier, we spoke about sculpture and installation, which is all about the experience.

How has the visual language of your work changed over time?

When I was completing my undergraduate degree, I was working in a very minimalist style. It’s always been about landscape, but this was about mark making because I come from drawing. I made these ten-foot suspended drawings like walls that the viewer would walk around. Even during my MFA my work was in this vein. While doing a residency in Berlin I realized that I was boring myself, it was getting so tedious. I thought I want to have fun, and make fun work.
That’s quite a switch up.

I just felt that very soon I would repeat myself, like my minimalist work was in a loop. Another problem that I had with my work was that it wasn’t in discussion with the present moment. With reflection, I see that the work was very Québec. There’s a culture of minimalism and conceptual art, a lot of monochrome and very clean stuff. Painterly, Jane Corrigan type of work doesn’t fly very well. From my point of view, the general francophone art scene of the province of Québec kind of stayed very influenced by the minimalist and conceptual art movements of the 60s.

Is it hard to navigate that as someone who doesn’t paint like that?

Well that’s why we started Projet Pangée, so that we could show the work that we don’t see so much in Montreal. I’ve personally been showing much more in the United States, even for western Canada my work is a bit too colorful. I think it’s important as an artist to find your public, the art scene who understands your work and with whom you want to be in conversation with. Which might not be where you live. Personally I find that place to be New York, which is why I’m slowly moving there half the time.

Visit Joani Trembaley’s artist page.

︎: @joanitremblay

Not So Far From Us (group exhibition)
Galerie Marie-Laure Fleisch
Brussels, Belgium
Oct 30 - Dec 16, 2020

all images (c) Joani Tremblay