Memories of War Surface in Visceral New Paintings by Eugene Lemay
For his first solo show at New York’s Stux Gallery, artist Eugene Lemay (who is also founder and president of Mana Contemporary), continues to explore the themes that have occupied him for decades—war, memory, landscape, and language—in a range of new paintings. These darkly hued, emotive compositions are on view at the gallery in “Building Absence: New Paintings,” and in Jersey City, where Mana Contemporary hosts a complementary exhibition of large-scale installations.
Since Lemay first began making art, in the early 1990s—inspired by the 1993 Robert Ryman retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art—he has approached his work as a form of autobiography. His abstract and semi-abstract paintings, works on paper, sculptural installations, and mixed media compositions largely stem from his experiences serving in the Israeli army.
Lemay entered into the service after completing high school. He eventually rose to the rank of sergeant, heading a commando reconnaissance unit during his country’s first war with Lebanon in 1982. In this capacity, he was sent to scout enemy territory under the cover of night, and charged with scanning, remembering, and recording the topographical features of landscapes shrouded in darkness. Visions of these nighttime landscapes recur in Lemay’s work, alongside images of skies and patchworks of semi-obscured letters drawn from his own missives to the families of fellow soldiers killed in combat.
At the Stux show’s center is an engulfing installation, titled Hezron (2014). A two-part work, it consists of five rectangular, large-scale canvases seamlessly aligned against the wall and printed with a barely discernable landscape in gray and black. A tumbling pile of granite rubble covers the bottom edges of the canvases and spills forward into the viewer’s space. With this work, Lemay evokes his nocturnal missions, and his daunting task of making sense of the Lebanese landscapes he was meant to map.
On view nearby is a selection of oil-on-canvas paintings from his new “Monochrome” series (2015). In midnight hues with touches of silver and gray, they echo the effects of deeply layered darkness evoked by Hezron. Their richly textured surfaces suggest an agitating force within their depths, reflecting the chaos of combat and its aftereffects—which, for Lemay, have resonated long after war’s end.
“Eugene Lemay, Building Absence: New Paintings” is on view at Stux Gallery, New York, Sep. 9–Oct. 31, 2015.