Chris Langlois

Chris Langlois has been painting dreamy, abstract landscapes for almost thirty years. His canvases reveal the magic of a horizon as the colours and light change, almost acting as a live artwork themselves. Capturing this is no easy feat, yet for Langlois, his ability to discover the shifting tones is his own refusal to accept his scenes as landscape paintings – as they hover between the surreal and sublime. The artist is now based in Avalon on the Northern Beaches, where the ocean is ever-inspiring. His show at Olsen Gallery, ‘Littoral Zone’, explores the landscape in more depth than ever before, as the artist innovatively maximises the financial constraints of Covid.

Chris, I’d love to start by discussing your process and technique. How do your pieces come together?
I use multiple photographs, sort of spliced together in photoshop. I do that as I find it very hard to get all the desired elements I’m after at any one time. And it makes the end paintings seem ‘not real’, which I like. I create hundreds of images and variations, print the ones I like and live with them for a while; the strong images stand out after time, then I use those images as the basis of the painting.

I’ll use a projector to lay down a very basic drawing and then paint. Some of the paintings will resolve easily, very similar to the photo I’m working from. Others change along the way and evolve. 

Has your painting style or process evolved over the years?
It changes and evolves all the time. It swings like a pendulum, which is to say that I return to past ideas and aesthetics and add to them, develop them. I’ll experiment and resolve a body of work over several years, get bored of it and move back to previous ideas or develop anew. When working on any one work, you can come up with two or three new ideas for another. Multiply that by twenty or thirty works, and it’s a lot of avenues to explore, and frankly, there is not really enough time to explore everything.

My main bodies of work have always swung between fairly literal landscapes and seascapes to the ambiguous and ephemeral. Lately, I’ve allowed the work to be more painterly, as previously I’ve blended the brush marks out. It gives contrast between the smooth and painterly and exaggerates each aesthetic.

Does living somewhere like the coastal town of Avalon influence your practice?
Avalon is part of a peninsula that separates the Tasman Sea and Pittwater/Broken Bay, and you can’t avoid seeing the ocean or large bodies of water. Because of that, you see things all the time that provide inspiration. It is hard to avoid painting the ocean because it’s there all the time.

Is there something about the ocean that draws you back to capture it over and over?
The ocean has an almost infinite space. I enjoy its fugue-like aesthetic. It can be empty and, at the same time, full of life and energy. It has contradictory nature, as we live along its coast and enjoy the lifestyle and beauty that it brings, yet at the same time is brutal and unforgiving.

Through your paintings, I find an almost preservation of the memory of the landscape. Is this deliberate?
I always paint the landscape in a generic way and avoid describing it as a place. My use of landscape is not to depict place; rather, a tool or vehicle to draw the viewers’ own relationship and past/history or memory with landscape.

Over the past seven years or so I’ve been driving out to the Flinders Ranges to a property named Oratunga and slowing getting to know the landscape around there. At first, I was overwhelmed by the landscape and wasn’t sure how to respond, all I could see where Hans Heysens everywhere. So, it took a few trips before I started to develop ideas, and now its evolved into couple of bodies of work.

What can we expect from your show at Olsen Gallery, ‘Littoral Zone’? Have you brought these processes to your latest works?
I hope people get a sense of calmness; it’s an exhibition of seascapes paintings, the meeting of the sea and land. The perspective is low so that the sea is a thin ribbon, a condensed area of information that’s juxtaposed with large areas of empty sky and foreshore. The sea is painterly and textured, and everything else is smooth.  What I saw was potential in mucking around with abstract elements, compositionally there is a conglomeration of horizontal lines, eclipses and triangles, so I really see the works as abstract paintings that happen to be seascapes. Colour is muted complimentary greys again juxtaposed with secondary colours such as red-violets and greens.

I’d like to dig a little deeper into landscapes as abstract pieces … Have you always seen your landscapes like this?
I evolved into landscape from abstraction in the 1990s. I fought it tooth and nail but eventually gave in. The landscapes where very painterly … actually calling them landscapes was probably a stretch, more like a top part and a part below and the bit where the part above met the part below that you’d call a horizon. I came to believe that pure abstraction worked on one level, the pure process of painting, composition, colour, texture, the power of paint and surface etc and if you’re into that sort of stuff it’s great, but I wanted to be able to offer other levels to enter or understand a painting even though the paintings may have been ostensibly abstract. So, my work evolved from that belief, always looking for those elements of abstract painting and applying it to painting landscape.

I mean it’s nothing new, but it’s just how my practice evolved and how I see my work. Other levels of being able to enter a work emerged such as memory and the personal experience, Romanticism, the Sublime, minimalism and so on.

How have you found creating during Covid? Have you learnt anything new about yourself and your art during this time?
At first, not knowing how Covid was going to play out was stressful, mainly due to the precarious financial nature of the art world. So, I didn’t buy as many canvases this year, as they are darn expensive. Which meant I spent longer on each work, pushing each one further. And when I say longer, four to five months. So that’s been interesting. I have my studio at home and have done for the last ten or more years, so I slipped into the working from home thing easily enough.

This article is sponsored by the Northern Beaches Council as part of the series ‘Documenting Art in the Time of Corona’ by Emma-Kate Wilson.

Chris Langlois: Littoral Zone
4 – 21 November
Olsen Gallery, Sydney

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