Born with a distinct talent, Jean-Louis Emond began painting and experimenting with technique on his own before enrolling at UQAM to study sculpture. “At the time, there were three of us who wanted to work with metal,” he laughs. His steady development was marked by several high points: a stay in France to broaden his horizons, opening a studio to practise his art and, for 17 years, a job teaching sculpture at the Saidye Bronfman School of Fine Arts while he perfected his technique. “All along the way, I continued to create work. However, at the end of this period I decided to devote myself solely to sculpture,” he explains.
“To express myself, I need an artistic form rooted in reality. One has a physical rapport with a sculpture—you have to walk around it, touch it.” As a university student and teacher, Emond experimented with different methods, working with several materials before choosing metal. “At the beginning, I made closed pieces. I then wanted to play with transparency and light, using pieces of recycled steel that I put together like a puzzle.” Over the years, the artist gradually refined his technique. Although he assembled his first metal sculptures free hand, he now uses a clay model to support the stainless steel fragments that he cuts out, one by one, before soldering them together. “When I destroy the model, a void is created; this allows light to enter the piece and engages the spectator.”
Although he relies primarily on his powers of observation to recreate a dance move, garment, or the curves of a body, he acknowledges many influences on his work, including the painter Francis Bacon. “This influence touches the emotions, the spirit,” notes the artist, who believes that sculpture is a medium for better creating a story. “Metal, particularly longlasting stainless steel, can reflect its surroundings and those viewing the piece, encouraging them to think about their connections with the art.” Although he says that he is confident in his approach when in the process of creating a piece, once the work is completed, Emond enjoys being confronted with the opinions of others, whether it is his wife or observers with thoughts—positive or negative—about his work.
One of the rare artists to have experienced success early in his career, to maintain control over the smallest production details, regardless of format, and to enjoy close ties with major galleries in Montréal, like the Galerie Blanche, and internationally, Emond recognizes how far he has come in his 35-year career. “I keep a few pieces from every era in my studio. It is important to know where it all started.”
Cover image: Frémissement, 51 x 14 x 15 cm, bronze, steel base, 2020