Denis Lessard
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Historiettes

12 cartes postales, 10 x 15 cm, 2011-2012
As We Try & Sleep Press, Winnipeg
ISBN 9780978394677



I began drawing beards in the fall of 2007, while in residency at the Banff Centre. Perhaps I thought it would be a way to get them out of my system. I just love beards. Drawn without the face, they tend to look like lyrical, abstract markings until you recognize what they are about. The single beards evolved into plates of miniature beards which were used for two t-shirts designed in 2009 for articule gallery in Montreal. Then Kegan McFadden suggested making postcards, in collaboration with As We Try & Sleep Press in Winnipeg. I thought of using the short texts I had been writing and accumulating since a number of years while dreaming of turning them into a publication. They are minuscule stories – historiettes – about some of life's oddities. For the postcards we chose the stories that had to do with facial hair, mostly. I proposed pastel backgrounds for the beards, reminiscent of litmus paper shades. Larry Glawson made a delicate, nostalgic design for the reverse of the cards. Since January 2012, they are being sent from Winnipeg every month by regular mail to some sixty friends, acquaintances and cultural workers in Canada and abroad. Some friends eventually recognize themselves in the stories, just like one recognizes the beards beyond the pencil markings.

Denis Lessard, August 2012

 

A limited edition of 30 was produced by As We Try & Sleep Press, Winnipeg, including a broadsheet with the English translation of the texts by Colette Tougas. The launch of the edition took place in the context of the exhibition intimacies at the Martha Street Studio gallery, Winnipeg, from September 6 to October 18, 2013.

intimacieswill present discrete but conceptually connected works in print form by three artists [Denis Lessard, Kegan McFadden and Jim Verburg] to be installed throughout the MSS gallery. Each of these works was produced as a multiple and represents a range of printmaking techniques and media, from digital to silkscreen to offset press and photocopy. These works are informed by the idea of intimacy, in particular male intimacy and how it is manifested in contemporary experience. The joint presentation of work by these three men is meant to offer both conceptual and experimental strategies from diverse perspectives. Lessard’s postcards speak to the emotional depth arising from personal relationships (sometimes fleeting, sometimes profoundly complex and laden) between men. McFadden’s screen prints speak to memory, identity and social bonds. Verburg's ‘stack’ is concerned with the subtle links and connections between people, experience, emotion and personal reality. With the work in this exhibition, Verburg moves towards exploring these ideas in minimal and non-representational ways, representing people and ideas through shape, colour and form.

 

Excerpt from the intimacies exhibition press release, Martha Street Studio, Winnipeg

Denis Lessard's Historiettes are the most directly intimate in their address. In each of this series of 12 postcards, mailed out to selected recipients, he reproduces a drawing of the facial hair of one particular, unnamed man: just the facial hair; no other identifying features
beyond the content of the accompanying text. Like the desiring subject who fetishises one aspect of the beloved, Lessard isolates the facial hair as an anchor of his desire. The drawings appear in dark ink against varying colours, many more or less pink or pinkish brown, and suggestive of skin tones, particularly those of bodily orifices. A short text appears on the other side of the postcard, a narrative describing an encounter with - and addressed to - the man to whom the facial hair presumably belongs. These remembered
incidents range from a simple sighting of someone who aroused his interest, to a full personal encounter or relationship. The facial hair is embedded in the text, as well as in the image: "Avec ta barbe, tu ressembles à l'un des beaux rois de France." In addressing this man whose beard resembles that of a "handsome king," as in the other stories, Lessard uses the familiar form, "tu", locating the addressee within a close range of affection. This also renders intimate, and ambivalent, the artist's address to the recipient of the postcard, who may also be someone with whom the artist has been erotically familiar. Is he talking to me? Am I the beloved? Or am I overhearing words passing between lovers?

 

Robin Metcalfe, excerpt from the intimacies brochure

That same tactile quality is a feature of Denis Lessard's Douze historiettes, an edition of 12 postcards. Having an acknowledged "thing for beards," the Montreal-based artist pairs crude sketches of disembodied facial hair with evocative fragments of narrative correspondence
–lyrical accounts of chance encounters, quietly erotic remembrances and the odd sweet nothing. The postcards' confessional, conspiratorial tone is complicated by the fact that intended recipient is never directly addressed. Lessard mailed out copies of the postcards to dozens of individuals, not all of them known to him personally–in the context of the show, even that subtle gesture of exhibitionism is striking. Taken as a whole, Intimacies reads like a collection of surreptitious notes and ephemeral secret messages. The works' reticence and deceptive blankness speak to painful histories, but they do so poetically, teasing at currents of sublimated affection and desire roiling just below the surface.

Steven Leyden Cochrane, « Hidden messages and love letters » (intimacies exhibition), Winnipeg Free Press, October 3, 2013