Canadian artist Paul Beliveau came to art through books; his uncle would lend him books on great artists to make up for occasionally missing their fly-fishing excursions. From then on he surrounded himself with books, with a particular preference for history and biography.
With this in mind Beliveau’s collections and paintings are somewhat biographical, charting the artist’s development, with books remaining the focus of subject matter within Beliveau’s paintings, the artist forms a dialogue and interrelationship through carefully constructing the composition of books within his paintings. His composition of books contests the concept of time, and the finiteness and infiniteness of culture.
Books are about language; a conversation between character, author and reader, therefore they can both stir the imagination and memories. Beliveau draws cultural references through his carefully curated compositions and juxtapositions. The paintings are grouped simplistically and include themes such as music, history, art movements and artists, and pop culture, all named with classical titles and Latin numbers, they are styled minimalist on clean backgrounds and are made up of graphic interlocking of shapes.
The title of these works, “Vanitas” refers to the idea of books being endangered within out contemporary culture. Beliveau provocatively explores this subject by creating works that house a co-existence between classical and pop culture, by intermingling culture and making it clash and through knowledge and reference. In classic paintings, “vanitas” is about the brevity and ephemeral nature of life, represented hourglasses, skulls or rotten fruits. Paintings in vanitas style were meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death, by composing images of book spines Beliveau’s paintings are full of references to culture, iconography from the past and present, and so they are used by the artist as a strategy against loss. The worn books metaphorically evoke the passage of time and reveal one’s finiteness; therefore it triggers thinking about the longevity of culture. In this sense, the books are “vanitas” because they have a terminal nature in our contemporary culture. Yet, through construction, reorganizing, photographing and painting books, the process of recreation and reinvention, the exploration of what’s embodied and the spiritual which underpinned in the construction, have prolonged the life and value of these books in our digital world.