Close engagement with the material qualities inherent to each form and medium has served as the foundation for my artistic practice. By providing a stable ground for transitions, my interests are free to navigate a continuum that includes ink paintings, layered plywood panels carved in relief, frottage drawings, and embossings, among others. The images and intentions that preoccupy me are carried forward from one medium to the next. In the most general sense, I seek balances - of the void and the sign, of empty space and human presence, of the natural and the artificial.
My visual language gained much of its syntax through working with plywood; the themes and techniques I have explored have been diverse. Early works and installations made use of plywood's functional guise while others explored the dichotomy of artifice and nature through the idiom of the landscape. Plywood can exemplify dualism of identity: a complex, industrially-produced material layered with ‘content’ from its natural, organic source. Wood veneers are neither entirely transformed, nor merely transposed, by the fabrication process - they refer to both the instrumental and earthly worlds. No two panels are truly alike. Each stratification conceals an intriguing vocabulary of knots, grains, textures, hues, growth rings, organic networks of fine lines and whirls - and manufacturing defects - within an artificial end-product. I observe layers of plywood as unfamiliar terrain to be discovered and annotated, much as an explorer leaves a cartographic record of points of departure and changes of direction for future reference. I remove layers and interweave my language with those intrinsic to the material, adding another layer of meaning and complexity. Restoring submerged values to plywood's diminished practical identity through delayering and relayering redirects its purpose to that of a kind of decoy: an uncanny reminder of an almost forgotten, fuller world and our place within it.
Gaining an understanding of plywood as a distinct medium of laminations, colours, and textures was an important development in my practice. It precipitated the creation of bas-relief panels, inspired me to construct custom-made laminates from exotic woods, and led to the use of carved plywood surfaces as a matrix for frottage drawings, embossings, ink paintings, etchings, and cast aluminium pieces. I shape and form by layering, working within and against the constraints of a given material, through subtraction or addition. To manifest a balance of temporality and timelessness, I try to draw fluidity out of these static objects - in lines, edges and textures - alignments of movement and stillness with silence between them. Similarly, when I draw it is not to depict, I see it as an extension of carving. Gestural mark making in ink echoes traces inscribed in plywood; the immediacy of ink echoes the speed of a router. With ink on paper, as with wood, a trace carved or drawn can neither be taken back nor erased, it is permanently absorbed or engraved.
Herzog and de Meuron, the distinguished architectural team, refer to an Aikido strategy of “using your enemy's energy for your own purposes. Instead of fighting it, you take all the energy and shape it in unexpected and new ways”. For plywood, I begin with a chisel knife or a router: tearing, chipping away, revealing, discovering, re-discovering, and manipulating sheets with the hope of eliciting delicate, gestural and contemplative realms from them. My tools are always close by, waiting to compel the existing information from the wood, prepared, as one would with brushes and paint, for mark making. My response to the material embeds a gestural chronicle, much as the natural properties are embedded in the strata of wood. The effect is a kind of fictional mapping or topographic layering. A work is complete - the point at which the generic, utilitarian material disappears in favour of a work of art – when I sense that mark, image, and narrative are in a meditative, balanced dissonance. My interest has shifted over time towards works and projects that bring my expression closer to the intrinsic characteristics of various materials as they undergo transformative processes. The mark making in my work can be said to have evolved along similar lines, towards a contemplative “watermarking” by which images seemingly emerge from the subtleties and nuances of the carved surfaces themselves. Depending on the predisposition of the viewer, a subtle narrative reveals itself.
Visiting cathedrals and seeing how the interplay of stained-glass windows, bas-reliefs, pillars, and icons beget complex, evocative environments had a determining impact on my way of looking at art. Architecture became the prevailing paradigm of my practice and interested me in the creation of large-format, site-specific works intended to redefine a given space by mediating the built environment. I have two objectives in mind: to evoke an introspective awareness within the viewer, and to suggest a reconciliation between nature and architecture. While creating and shaping the various elements of an in situ work, rather than foreknowledging a final composition, I have the intended site and viewers in mind. They are implicit in the finished piece. As with my sculptural works, I avoid focusing on singular associations, preferring to leave the door open to an entire series of associations which ripen in the mind of the beholder.
Yechel Gagnon, 2012