By blue Ontario’s shore,
As I mused of these warlike days and of peace return’d,
and the dead that return no more,
I listened to the Phantom by Ontario’s shore,
I heard the voice arising demanding bards.
Underneath the lessons of things, spirits,
Nature, governments, ownership,
I swear I perceive other lessons.
— Walt Whitman, By Blue Ontario’s Shore, 1856
Lakeshore is an ongoing series of colour photographs on which we have painted words and images. The photographs depict urban and rural settings, interiors, and a variety of other subjects—principally in Canada and France.
We portray a lakeshore in our painted photographs in a figurative, personal and often oblique manner. Although some of our images do depict actual lakeshores,most have to do with our routine comings and goings, artistic and quotidian. We metaphorically represent the shore as a threshold, a place of contemplation, departure or arrival. The idea of a lakeshore as a poetic space of transition is an established genre in romantic art (and in Canadian painting in particular): we both recall and temper this by painting on images that are more often prosaic than wistful. The painting interrupts the photograph’s surface and the reading of the picture as a direct seamless window onto reality; the photograph becomes the painting’s ground. This emphasizes the photograph’s plasticity and creates a greater plurality of readings.
Our painted words are idiomatic and common expressions, maxims, and phrases from popular culture, predominantly in English or French. The words do not serve as captions for the images, but rather further our exploration of an expanded definition of lakeshore. The painted texts up-end the traditional role that captions play—that of directing the viewer to a specific message conveyed by the photograph. The images painted on the photographs are of glasses, pails and other water containers; they are the most explicit
bodies of water in the artwork.
— John Armstrong and Paul Collins
For the past eight years, John Armstrong, who lives in Toronto, and Paul Collins, who lives in Paris, have collaborated on painting, photography and publishing. Their collaboration predominantly takes place over the Internet, by telephone and by using a courier service to send works back and forth bewteen Canada and France. Additionally, there is a strong measure of telepathy — making the whole process a bit like a cadavre exquis.
(A cadavre exquis - also known as an exquisite corpse, exquisite cadaver or rotating corpse - is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled by two or more collaborators. Each contributor adds to the composition in sequence, but each is only allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed. The result is known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis.)
In 2002, Armstrong and Collins created a collaborative bookwork titled Jim#, co-published by Coach House Books and the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The bookwork is comprised of 98 paired photographs taken in Canada and France, followed by a section of short narratives written by the artists in either English or French. Both the photographs and the texts document the artists’ responses to a list of 49 variously mundane or idiosyncratic subjects. A parallel exhibition of photographs, also titled Jim#, was presented first in 2002 at the Robert Birch Gallery (now birch libralato), Toronto. The exhibition then traveled to the Art Gallery of Sudbury (2002); Artothèque de Caen, France (2003); Kunsthalle Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany (2003); Faux Mouvement, Metz, France (2003); Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, New Brunswick (2004); and the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, Toronto (2004). Most recently, Jim# was exhibited at the Maison de la culture Cotes-des-Neiges as part of Image & Imagination, the international photography festival Le Mois de la photo à Montréal 2005.
Lakeshore has been shown at Galerie l’Hotel, Caen (2003); Truck, Calgary (2004); Platform Centre for Photography and Media Arts, Winnipeg (2005); and La galerie ESCA, Nimes, France (2006). This project is ongoing, and currently consists of over 100 painted photographs. Concurrent with their Oakville Galleries exhibition, Armstrong and Collins will present other works from Lakeshore at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College Art Gallery in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
John Armstrong teaches painting at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in the Art and Art History Program, a joint program between Sheridan and the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Paul Collins teaches multidisciplinary art in the Communication, Arts and Media Department at the École d'art de recherche de Caen la mer, France.