Since winning the New York KiptonART 2011 Rising Stars Program, the work of Austin, Texas-based artist Ysabel LeMay has seen more than 115 exhibitions around the globe and has been acquired for the corporate collections of Chevron, Bloomingdale’s and Bacardi, and the permanent collections at the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Morris Museum. In 2013, LeMay participated in the Texas Biennial and in 2015, she represented Texas at the fourth edition of Women to Watch in Washington, D.C. In 2017, LeMay held a solo retrospective show at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. In 2018, she was a visiting instructor at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop in New Mexico.
Growing up in Quebec, Canada, LeMay fastened her connection to the natural world at her family’s cottage in the northern wilderness of the province. But it was the jungle of the advertising world where LeMay honed her visual expression. After 15 years in the industry, she sought a more rewarding path for her creativity, refocusing initially on painting and then photography. While her technique is high-tech, LeMay’s hypercollage process sees her traveling the globe on photographic expeditions, accumulating vast reserves of natural imagery. These she studiously reviews, extracting elements according to her intuition and assembling them into baroque tableaux venerating the undeniable majesty and generosity of nature. LeMay has brought her hypercollages to a place where they now serve as records of natural splendor perpetually in motion – as expressed by an artist who herself shows no interest in standing still.
Art, of course!
My immense naiveté and enthusiasm, combined with my relentless desire to surpass myself, are the characteristics that have propelled me to where I am today.
The achievement of which I’m most proud is trusting myself enough to make two vital decisions. The first was being able to break free of the constraints of commercialized creativity, to reach for more worthwhile purpose in what I do, which I find of course in art. The second is being able to maintain and even grow my independence. I’ve created my own path, and it’s one that’s led me to international recognition. My faith in myself is what I like the most about myself.
As I said elsewhere, it’s said that the human body fully replaces its cells every seven years. Likewise, I need to reinvent myself and my practice on a similar cyclical timeline. This means pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, taking risks in the face of uncertainty. It’s a challenge every time — and pays off every time.
Cooking, or rather, bringing more people to my table so I can share my culinary adventures. That, and music, particularly jazz — I’ve really been getting in to John Coltrane’s work from ’63 to ’68 lately.
How did you get into the industry?
My hypercollage work is a recent development in a creative career that has evolved over decades. It is in fact a fusion of two previous periods of my life — my years as an advertising designer, during which I developed my skills in digital imagery, and then later my period exploring the art of painting, during which I mastered my aesthetic sensibilities, and came to understand the deeper, perhaps more spiritual (for lack of a better word) possibilities of visual creativity.
Any emerging industry trends?
First, artists are gaining independence, with many more reliable sales platforms. They no longer rely entirely on the traditional galleries system to tell them what, when and where to sell. With the opportunity to be unfiltered, we see artists bringing more and more diversity in their forms of expression. We are also noticing an increasing number of female artists reaching greater exposure on the international art scene. Where they continue to struggle for equal representation in the traditional art system, using unfiltered independent sales platform allows them to be seen. To give you an example, at Saatchi Art, the world’s largest online gallery, 54% of their top-selling artists are women.
What do you expect from the interaction of your work and the viewers?
There are artists who demand a specific reaction from their audience, and I respect that passion, that intensity of conviction. But I am not one of those artists. I understand myself to be simply a channel, a gateway for nature’s mysteries and marvels. Once I have passed my experience to the viewer, I leave it to them to decide how they can engage with these images. For some, it may simply be pleasant and charming, a decoration for their lives. Others, however, may find something much deeper and richer, something approaching the spiritual. Ideally, I would like my work to give the viewer a moment, long or short, of meditation, through which they can more fully understand their world and themselves.
What’s next for the Business in the near future?
It’s said that the human body fully replaces all its cells every seven years. That means that we are not at all, physically, who we were seven years ago. The same can be said for careers, and for entire creative industries — reinvention is inevitable, necessary and for the most part a good thing. In my field, remarkable new developments in software and media technology are pushing artists and other stakeholders to evolve their approaches to production, and expand their imaginations. Another aspect in human interaction — personally, I’m devoting more attention to mentoring, to helping others learn and evolve.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I believe if you take the time to craft exceptional work, you will be noticed. Nowadays, with the help of social media, artists are being discovered through their work going viral, bloggers reaching people by thousands and sometimes millions. Curators, gallery directors, and collectors are now using online platforms and technology to research and find new talents.
That, however, is pretty universal these days. In my own practice, I’ve also followed a strategy of using the side door. What I mean is, in addition to contacts in your own immediate field (for me, that’s gallerists, curators, art critics and so forth), building a non-traditional professional network, with people in fields adjacent to your own. In my case, that means, for instance, architects and interior designers.
How do you hope your artwork engages with your audiences?
I can only answer this question by telling you the story of how I was once incredibly rewarded by seeing the art of another particular artist. His name is Jerome Martin. When I saw his exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art a few years back, his work had such intelligence and beauty that I understood at that precise moment what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to reach that level of intelligence through my work, and offer the same magnitude of excellence. This man changed the course of my life. I understood what was required of me in this life and how, by being dedicated to excellence, I could also impact the life of a few in a positive way. I hope my work offers a space were the viewer can connect with their higher self, the part that we have in each of us that makes us realize our dreams and inspire people along the way.
What do you love most about Your City?
Riding my scooter everywhere, all year long (I’m from Quebec, after all, which is covered in snow half the year). That, and of course the amazing independent music scene that exists here in Austin.
What should everyone try at least once?
Quitting their job to follow their dream.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
In nature. I’m sure that getting lost in the wilderness is a nightmare scenario for many people, but to me, it’s paradise.