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May 18, 2024
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Perfect Circles

Yvonne Lammerich retrospective at Oeno Gallery this month a challenging, immersive exhibit
<p>Yvonne Lammerich, &#8220;Yukon,&#8221; Acrylic on Canvas, 1973 (Photo: Oeno Gallery)</p>
Yvonne Lammerich, “Yukon,” Acrylic on Canvas, 1973 (Photo: Oeno Gallery)

There’s an old story in painting circles concerning the ancient Greek painter Apelles. He went to visit his friend and fellow artist, Protogenes, only to find him not at home. In place of a calling card, he drew a perfect circle on the wall. A friendly challenge, a jest, a brag? Apelles knew the circle, considered impossible to draw without a compass, would establish beyond a shadow of a doubt just who had dropped in.

I love this story, the friendly rivalry, the idea of a contest. As though it could be so easily decided what makes a painter. How a perfect circle, a geometrical and mathematical concept, in human hands becomes a boast.  

It came to mind on a visit to the Yvonne Lammerich retrospective at Oeno Gallery this month. Works that span fifty years, from 1971-2022, are on display — highlights of a rich and varied international career that started at the Ontario College of Art, and took Ms. Lammerich, who was born in Germany, to England, France, Pompeii, and Dubai.

Since 2012, Ms. Lammerich has lived in Prince Edward County with fellow artist and husband Ian Carr-Harris. They purchased 2.5 acres, a pond, and a barn on the Rednersville Road about 15 years ago. Within two years, they were designing their dream house and studios here, selling the house they owned in Toronto’s arty Ossington neighbourhood, which had been close to where Mr. Carr-Harris taught, at OCAD.

“As soon as we moved there,” she sighs, “just as soon as we got there, cafes were opening up and it was trendy. We literally had to walk through a crowd just to get into our house.”

Ms. Lammerich is an abstract artist, and as we walked through the gallery, she animatedly explaining the ideas behind her works, what seemed incomprehensible jumbles of shapes started to move into place, take on meaning, and demonstrate intent.

Lammerich’s most accomplished works combine access points and mix perspectives to question the concept of an ideal or single point of view.

“We are supposed to be standing directly in front of a painting, as though it were static, and the point of view with which it can be approached is singular. I question that idea in my work.”

“We all live with many ways of seeing all at once. Moving from singular to multiple is how we must live today,” she says, with a nod to the transformation of the idea of a dominant culture.

QED Gravity

QED Gravity #2, acrylic on canvas, 1989.  Lammerich explains, “The X is there as though to say, X marks the spot.” She smiles. “It’s a kind of joke. There is no one spot.” (Courtesy Oeno Gallery)

Take her series of paintings of brick walls. Hard to imagine a more unpromising subject. Yet these play with colour and light — stunning shades of pink, lilac, and yellow paint are mixed with metallics. The metals make the light shift as a viewer walks across the front of the painting. A flat painting of a brick wall becomes a study in light, colour, point of view, optical illusion, and depth perception. The bricks themselves seem to move, an illusion Lammerich discovered had to do with the thin grey line representing mortar between the bricks.

“These are about one thing moving into another. How elements and shapes shift around so the inside becomes the outside, a bridge becomes an archway. They also show that optical illusion is built into the way we see.” Of the black spaces in the center of the paintings, Ms. Lammerich notes, “it looks like empty space, but its materiality contradicts that.”

The colours, instances of what Ms. Lammerich calls “colour memory,” are associative. The shades and shapes in the paintings evoke far-away places, times, and traditions, from Gothic to Eastern. Two of this brilliant, deceptive series form part of the permanent collection of the Musée du Québec.

Body Records

On display also are Lammerich’s own perfect circles. Giant disks, black or white, hang on the walls. They suggest wheels, and are called targets, but they are also records, of “body motion.”

Body Motion Target #1. Acrylic on Canvas, 2010. (Courtesy Oeno Gallery)

Finding them oddly compelling, I asked the artist to explain. We moved in closer. The paint is thick, sinuous, material. Its folds reflect the light. The “perfect” circles are sensuous, material, uneven, composed of thick round rolls of paint. Lammerich painted the circles standing arm’s length from the canvas, arm straight and sweeping around like a compass to construct as perfect a circle as humanly possible.

The resulting layers record the vibrations of her arm as it trembled slightly, going round and round.

The paintings are a record. The black paint suggests a vinyl record, seen up close, with grooves that record music — or, in this case, body vibrations.

The ideas of a target, a bull’s eye, a perfect circle, even “arm’s length” — a term used to define impartiality for academic referees, who must be properly distanced — all are concepts that create and reinforce the idea of a single, definable point of view. Lammerich redirects, from single to multiple. She fills in empty space with the material. Abstract works invoke bodily reality, and with it vulnerability, time, imperfection, multiple senses.

Seeing is not enough; a reconstruction is in order.

An Immersive Experience

Immersion is a key value. Seeing is not enough; a reconstruction is in order. Lammerich’s works combine and then abstract. They are structured to move the viewer through that abstraction, past the surface, which is deconstructed and rearranged. You cannot rest at one point of view, in front of a painting, but are invited to examine from all sides, all angles, inside and out, to take it apart imaginatively and conceptually and put it back together. The experience is an immersion.

Abstract paintings of shapes combine elements of a map looked at from above, a 3-D model approached from the sides, and the flat surface of a painting, all at once.

Ms. Lammerich is a lifelong independent. If she loves the freedom and space of the country, she also eschewed any permanent institutional affiliation. She has taught and learned in many places, moving where opportunity and interest intersected. Her work combines traditions and approaches, including those of cognitive science, empiricism, architecture, history. A PhD, in Art History, took her to Pompeii.

She calls herself “an artist’s artist,” which can mean difficult. Henry James is a “writer’s writer.” But it also suggests an artist working deep inside a tradition, taking it apart from within, reassembling it. This body of work at once positions Lammerich within a long and distinguished tradition — and takes that tradition apart, reorders it, considers it anew.

The artist gives a talk at Oeno Gallery on Thursday 25 April at 5:30pm. I, for one, would not miss it.

Yvonne Lammerich Now and Then: An Unfolding
6 April 2024 — 5 May 2024
Oeno Gallery
2274 County Road 1

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 17 edition of The Picton Gazette
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