Mark Laguë | Facets of Color & Light

Mark Laguë captures the fluid energy of the city

By Elizabeth L. Delaney

Mark Laguë, San Francisco Harbor Blue, oil, 16 x 20.

Mark Laguë, San Francisco Harbor Blue, oil, 16 x 20.

This story was featured in the July 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art July 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

The paintings of Mark Laguë pulse with energy. Defined by a fluid commingling of lively marks, rich color, and dynamic light, they seem to grasp and release energy, almost as if they’re breathing. And they ignite our collective sentimentality for iconic scenes that represent the vitality of urban spaces, of an ever-changing contemporary landscape and the promise of never-ending stimulation for the senses.

Laguë has a painterly, expressionistic approach that limits superfluous details. He concentrates on the light and energy that exist underneath and within the fabric of the surface, highlighting the synergy between the fundamental light and color that anchor the subject matter. He has honed his signature style over many years, both as a professional fine artist and as a commercial artist who spent every moment of free time working on his own canvases. In fact, his conscious desire to paint was slow in coming, not fully emergent until he was an adult.

Growing up in Montreal, Laguë spent his time engaging in his culture’s beloved pastime: hockey. Coming from a large family of avid sports fans, he enjoyed athletics; even as Laguë took part in them, though, he also spent a good deal of time just doodling, he says. It was a pursuit he found on his own, an instinctive desire to express himself through visual means.

He didn’t begin to identify himself as an artist, however, until his final year of high school, when he took a general art class. “It put the idea in my head that art could be my thing,” he says. On the end-of-year class exhibition day, he set up a portrait booth and drew his fellow students. It was so popular that Laguë realized perhaps art could be a fruitful path for him after all. “Maybe there’s something I can do in this regard later on,” he recalls thinking to himself.

After finishing high school, he went on to study fine art at John Abbott College in Quebec—a program that served as a bridge between secondary school and university. “In the end, it served to be of more value to me [than commercial art school],” he explains. Looking back, he has realized that the program helped him loosen up his creative approach and forge a less-photorealistic style, while exposing him to the “charm” of fine art. “That’s where I was starting to understand,” he says.

Laguë also studied on his own, and among his major influences was the book Painting What You Want to See by Charles Reid, which he discovered one day while browsing in a bookstore. “Something clicked in me,” he says of that experience. He found the book to be more constructive than some of his actual classes in terms of exposing him to another way of seeing.

He went on to take classes in oil and watercolor at the Visual Arts Centre in Montreal, and although he received much benefit from the fine-arts curriculum, he still felt like a commercial-art path would offer him more professional opportunities. To that end, he enrolled in Montreal’s Concordia University, where he went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in design. “The notion of fine art wasn’t even something I thought anyone could do for a living,” he says.

Upon graduating from university, Laguë began a full-time stint painting backgrounds at an animation studio. He continued in the industry for 14 years, advancing to art director, even as he painted in his free time at home. “I always knew I wanted to do my own thing,” Laguë says of his professional endgame. Eventually he started entering juried competitions, finding success and an impetus to persist in his fine-art pursuits. Finally, in 2002, Laguë decided to leave the animation arena and jump into painting full time.

Participating in competitions across the United States led to gallery representation, and his career flourished from there. Today the artist still resides in his native Canada and continues to exhibit there and throughout the U.S. His paintings have appeared in many juried exhibitions, including those mounted by the Oil Painters of America, the American Watercolor Society, and Salon International, where he received the 2004 Plein Air Magazine Publisher’s Award.

Though Laguë paints the occasional plein-air, pastoral landscape, his creative interests focus primarily on bustling urban areas. “I have always gravitated toward geometric, man-made shapes, rather than toward more organic forms,” says the artist. “I find painting cityscapes tends to lead to a more personal and unique vision for me.” It is this unwavering vision that allows him to harness and amplify the elements of color, light, and form.

As he works, Laguë explores the confluence of light and shape, continually striving to extract the innate energy from any scene, and to do so with a visual efficiency that defines the subject matter while not relying on heavy detailing or the prescribed standards of realism. He remarks that light plays a highly significant role in his work, many times acting as a signpost when deciding what to paint. “In a word, it’s the light,” he says of his process. “It’s the pattern of light. You just know.”

Experimenting with hues and values figures prominently into Laguë’s creative process as well, and he often lets the emerging color story dictate the direction of a painting. “I learned early on how to excite a painting by intermingling warm and cool colors to create a visual vibration, much as the Impressionists did,” he explains. To that end, color is the element with which he takes the most artistic license. It frees him to decipher and reimagine, to conceptualize and distort, and attempt to portray the allure of the scene, rather than simply record it.

Examples include a busy city street at night, the darkness punctuated by the contrasting reds and yellows of auto lights at once steady and moving; a rainy day in Manhattan, with dazzling silvers and whites bouncing light from one surface to another; or the Golden Gate Bridge, wrapped in the saturated greens and blues of a sunny day on the water. Laguë’s use of color, coupled with his demonstrative yet restrained brushwork, reveals the monumental nature of the remarkable city structures as well as the subtle minutiae surrounding them. In this vein, he uses color as the vehicle to reveal aesthetic vitality. Laguë employs color perhaps more subjectively than his other tools, because it allows him to maintain the realism of the scene while also adding his own way of seeing and defining its essence. “Color is where I can be more expressive than in any other discipline of painting,” he says.

Further, he is interested in breaking down the shapes, lines, and color components of his subjects, reducing the visual mass to streamline the contents across the picture plane. “This simplification is undoubtedly the most important element in enhancing my compositions,” says Laguë. “I find it fascinating how consolidating shapes according to light and shadow patterns, as opposed to painting ‘things,’ almost magically leads to strong, simple designs.” Ultimately, these faceted components flow in and out of one another, prompting a conversation between detailed and obscured areas, and creating aesthetic fusion among the elements.

When he is ready to paint, Laguë finds that working in the studio gives him the space and time he needs to fully interpret his visual experiences. Prior to that, however, he is in the field, gathering material for future works. He routinely travels to cities like New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Rome, photographing far and wide to collect a broad swath of imagery. Walking the streets and shooting from early morning into the evening, he captures as many natural light variations as he can. The result is thousands of firsthand references preserving his impressions of these places as they ebb, flow, and simply live.

Laguë works in oil on canvas or board, painting on surfaces up to 6 by 5 feet. His large compositions consist of layers of pigment that have been applied, scraped, and smoothed to reveal the various strata of light and color within each scene. He often paints with ink brayers to produce consistency among the visual elements, rolling pigment across the space to join disparate components and add uniformity.

Over the past few years, Laguë has become especially fascinated with aerial views of skyscrapers, street scenes, and other urban vignettes. Such unusual viewpoints upend traditional perspective, at the same time infusing each composition with additional dynamism.

“When I see growth, it’s always because I’m saying more with less,” says Laguë of his creative evolution. When he first began drawing, like many artists, he sought to recreate the world around him with tightly rendered, ultrarealistic portraits and landscapes. Since that time, he has become looser and more interpretive with his creations—hence the expressionistic, at times abstracted, presentations of the objects and scenes that pique his artistic interest.

Brazier Gallery, Richmond, VA; Horizon Fine Art Gallery, Jackson, WY; Koyman Galleries, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; SmithKlein Gallery, Boulder, CO; Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; Rehs Contemporary Galleries, New York, NY.

This story was featured in the July 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art July 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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