Stretched across a canvas and bursting with colour, Joani Tremblay’s paintings explore the vastness of North American landscapes where “Some places have the power to move one deeply,” as she notes. Communicated through pastels and colourful subtleties, Tremblay’s work is often compared to Georgia O’Keeffe, though the Canadian artist continues to master her technique, creating an unparalleled visual language. First rendered digitally, then translated to a canvas, Tremblay meditates on the evocation of the natural world, posing introspection of the self.
Each painting is laced with wonder, creating otherworldly accounts, where a desert is only an entry point into Tremblay’s imagination. Utilising digital tools to pull from the aesthetics of modern advertisements and pop-cultural video games, Tremblay builds from this foundation when her brush first touches the canvas. As she paints the memories of her exploration of the expansiveness of the American Southwest, among other landscapes, the contemporary artist lends hope to the viewer, where her art acts as an escape from often cloudy realities. We spoke to Tremblay about her creative pursuit, themes that flood her paintings, and new works on view at Harper’s Gallery Intericonicity now until March 11.
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Untitled (night golden field) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
Did you grow up in a family of artists or avid explorers, and if so, how has that influenced your craft?
I grew up in the countryside, and for most of my childhood, my family and I spent every weekend and summer holidays at our cabin in the woods. There were no neighbours for miles, and no other kids around. I would spend my days walking alone in the landscape, made of many beaches, rock cliffs and forests, picking up seashells and other treasures. In some way, landscapes became part of me, and I learnt to be at peace in solitude. As I got older, I traveled extensively on my own and became more and more interested in place, land use policies and architecture, and how they frame a particular place.
You speak about your time exploring the American desert and its effect on you and your craft. Can you speak to that moment of realising their immense influence?
There is something magical about vast open spaces. I think there is a reason why so many important artists worked in the American desert. The particular spacious vastness of the desert, the open horizon, and the expansive colourful skies produce a kind of introspection and a sense of deep independence that only outdoor space generates. Some places have the power to move one deeply.
Who were a few north stars when you became a painter, and what north stars continue to guide you in your craft?
The work of Agnes Martin, as well as her practice, her writing, and the way in which she lived the life of an artist was extremely influential. In addition, Gregory Amenoff, Rebecca Morris, Judy Chicago, Lois Dodd, Arthur Dove, and Milton Avery played an important role in my development.
Currently, my contemporaries are the most influential; how painting is a conversation among painters – with colours, forms, and brush marks; how a painting can convey a sense of what the artist meant by a particular use of a particular colour, applied in a particular manner. Veronika Pausova, Kristy Luck, Sky Glabush, Clare Grill, and Lily Stockman are among them. Their works give me awe and courage.
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Untitled (rain) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
Working with a digital canvas and later translating those drawings to a painted canvas creates a precise dialogue. Did you always use a digital element when creating?
The collage aspect of the digital has been in my practice for a long time. I research and collage from social media posts, advertising, field research, and other visual sources. I assemble these images in digital collage creating composite landscapes, before translating them into paintings.
Some elements repeat from painting to painting, coming from the idea of duplication, of copy and paste, of the digital world. The methodology I have developed between digital collage and painting is a way for me to engage critically with the transformation of our contemporary visual culture.  Seeking to address and question the very idea of visual literacy—how images are made, looked at, considered, analysed, and internalised.
Do you ever see a departure from painting into a purely digital space?
No. At the essence, I am a painter. I love painting too much and painting as language.
Can you speak to your incredible colour palette and the process of creating a scene and story with colour, especially for your upcoming show?
The past two pandemic years I felt a need for chromatic levity when painting, needing to make work about hopeful places, more in touch with everyday sources of pleasure and meaning, emphasising what makes life worth living. Thus, the colours were saturated with citrus hues and desert fiery skies. For my current exhibition, Intericonicity, at Harper's Chelsea, I yearned to come back to a darker palette of rich greens and Prussian blues, inspired by the depth of extensive forests and valleys, setting the tone for a more introspective experience.
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Untitled (Bear Run waterfall) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
While most of your work pulls on the natural world and landscapes, were there any other themes evoked while creating for your upcoming show?
In April 2022, I drove from New York City through the mountainous region of southwest rural Pennsylvania to reach Fallingwater, the iconic house that architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed as a nature retreat for a wealthy retail owner. An excerpt from Elizabeth Buhe's press release best describes this: “Wright erected Fallingwater over a waterfall so that it literally straddles, but symbolically surmounts, the tributary’s onrush. Even its windows are unframed, to better create an illusion of coextension with the same nature it tames. Built from 1935–39, at the height of the great economic depression, Wright used nearby labourers, supporting the in-need local economy to forge an elaborate private gem amid the picturesque.” In this vein, contradictory impulses about our treatment of the land and varied power dynamics fuel these paintings.
Spending long hours in the studio and anticipating a spectacular show is no small feat. Do you see yourself taking time to rest, or are you in the studio creating new work and planning for the rest of the year?
Yes indeed, I have been cloistered in the studio for most of the past year working on this exhibition. I usually go on a small trip right after solo openings to avoid the post-opening blues. This time, I am lucky to go to the desert in a small secluded off-grid house, without a soul in sight. I am looking forward to recharging, hiking, exploring, reading books, and refuelling.
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Untitled (Laurel Highlands) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (farmland valley) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (Blue Mountain Tunnel) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (violet mountains) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (naphthol red) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (sunset and trees) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (Death Valley) 2022 © Joani Tremblay
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Untitled (Mt Davis) 2022 © Joani Tremblay