By Nickie Scudero
Ysabel LeMay’s work is painterly, with realistic images jumping off the surface and bathed in heavenly colors, composed to form ethereal worlds that look like a more beautiful Garden of Eden. All the images in LeMay’s works are shot from real life, but she sifts through more than 10,000 edited images in her image bank to layer hundreds on each other in what she calls “hypercollages,” in what she says her collectors describe as “tearing a page from a grown-up fairy tale book.”
LeMay’s process of creating art this way started serendipitously. A former graphic artist-turned-painter, LeMay discovered her love of photography when a documentarian creating a film on the artist lent her a camera, telling her to use it since he’d be curious what she could create with the lens. A month later, she brought him back the camera and showed him her first two pieces. He gave the tool back to her, saying if she needed to borrow anything else from him, she’d be welcome to.
For LeMay, who says painting left her feeling the need to express something bigger but not knowing what, sending the universe her wish for a change and experiencing such a revitalization with the camera gave her a newfound sense of freedom. The Quebec, Canada-born, Austin, Texas, resident hasn’t picked up a brush since she found her new passion in 2010. LeMay culls her image bank by traveling the world and shooting nature photographs, capturing botanical gardens and landscapes in places such as Montreal, northern California, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Prague, Switzerland, and Sweden. Though she’s stateside for six months until she becomes a U.S. citizen, she tries to take a journey ever few months for new inspiration. Shapes of flowers and energy of plants embolden her to snap and shoot, then she extracts backgrounds and manipulates images to be inserted in her works, some of which contain up to 500 single elements.
LeMay has felt a connection with the environment since she was a young girl, as her childhood home was isolated and surrounded by nature. The positive impact of the outdoors on her family also had a significant impact on the adoration she feels for it today.
“We had a family that was not necessarily very happy together while we were living in the house, but when we came to nature together, there was a harmony and joy that really came through,” LeMay says. “I associate nature with joy. I don’t look at a plant because it’s beautiful—I almost get in touch with its personality. I sort of have a conversation with the living world.”
LeMay has turned a common response for her work—the word “wow”—into an acronym representing what she hopes to convey in her hypercollages: “wonderful other worlds.” She compares the contemplation that occurs when people encounter nature to the meditative aspect found in her work, with the intention that there’s not a piece that leaves her studio that doesn’t have an energy behind it to allow viewers to open the gates to their consciousness and to capture the divinity nature provides.
For collectors Jack Hruska and Lisa Contreras, creative directors for Bloomingdale’s, Inc., LeMay’s work did indeed emit powerful dynamism when they first discovered it at Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York City. Now her pieces are in Bloomingdale’s stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Stanford, California. “We were immediately drawn to her fresh, whimsical, organic pieces that seemed to emanate with a light from within,” Contreras says. “For our Stanford store, we commissioned Ysabel to design a piece that would capture the flora and fauna of a redwood forest in a whimsical yet sophisticated manner. We were overjoyed with the result.”
Her collection of more than a dozen of these “wonderful other worlds” is on display now for the first time in an exhibition titled Wonders at Chicago’s Catherine Edelman Gallery. Owner Catherine Edelman and director Juli Lowe say they were drawn to LeMay’s compositions from across the room at a Paris exhibition a couple years ago. Lowe says LeMay is skilled at balancing the line between painting and photography and shows a talented eye for landscape perspective through her stunning works.
“She has an ability to take a traditional subject matter and create something that is so unique, where she has this dreamlike experience with nature,” Lowe says. “She has an awe-inspiring talent to create these landscapes that are so dense.”
LeMay’s next artistic evolution includes animating her works. She says after a tough winter and being depleted of the bright environments depicted in her art in real life, this exhibition provides a way for viewers to get in touch with nature and introspection.
“I think my show offers that impact of wonder and the opportunity to connect with life intelligence,” LeMay says. “Visitors can have a very personal dialogue with my work. Yes, it’s a stimulating experience visually, but it’s much more than that. It’s about reconnecting with your higher self and your connection with nature.”
YSABEL LEMAY: WONDERS
When: Through July 3, 2015
Where: Catherine Edelman Gallery,
300 W. Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60654
Information: (312) 266-2350, www.edelmangallery.com