Lounge lizards and fans of jazz bars and cafes will rejoice at your typical Remi Labarre composition, as the acclaimed contemporary figurative artist is renown for his epic portrayals of this timeless era, where everyone routinely plays an instrument, sips from a Martini glass and has many a tale to tell/sing. With the lights turned down low and the atmosphere approaching totally relaxed o’clock, the downtown bar’s the definite place to be seen at, whilst its beautifully painted characters bring every frame to magical life.
Labarre himself sees art and music historically entwined within one another’s creative embrace, and goes as far as to describe his ambient and mood-mongering oils as ‘painted songs’. The powers of observation and awareness of his chosen, inspired surrounds are key to Labarre’s traditional compositions, all of which essentially stem from an initial interaction between two people who are set to become the lead characters in his next piece. Be those unwitting players fleetingly captured sharing a gaze towards each other over a hazy, crowded bar, or the perception of a drink that perhaps altered perspectives that particular night. Or what about the musician who noticed it all while performing up on stage.
Admittedly influenced by the equally evocative illustrative works of John Singer Sargent, ever-popular Canadian artist, Labarre’s signature pieces expertly echo the exact environments which he elects to convey the visual emotions and powerful narratives of. After hours bars and jazz clubs loom large and pictorially decadent in his most prominent works, with poetic and prosaic edges also well documented, graphically. Born in 1977, Labarre has drawn from early childhood and is self-taught, having never received any formal art training to speak of. Labarre always turned to his brushes for the love of the art first and foremost, which can be observed in his most memorable works.
A recurrent vein of nostalgia and a sense of the bygone runs deep through a Labarre study, which nearly always takes on the story of a fighter, a poet, a lover and the great misunderstood. His native Montreal provides some of the vibrant backdrops for his enigmatic canvases, while trips to the likes of Paris, San Francisco and New York have also afforded Labarre a rich and diverse parallel twilight scene to tap into during his various visitations. In Labarre’s own words he says; “The greatest compliment I get is when people actually come to me and say they hear the music playing in the painting while looking at it”.
Singer Sargent aside, and we learn elsewhere that Labarre’s influences range from Richard Schmid and Fabian Perez through to Jack Vettriano, yet when the tables are turned we – along with Labarre himself on first being made aware – are impressed to find that Labarre’s body of work has inspired a musician who the popular figurative artist rates highly; none other than the singer/songwriter who spoke for a generation, Leonard Cohen, who’s Labarre-crafted portrait forms part of the musician’s private art collection we understand.
Indeed, Labarre’s individual compositions and more collective works are housed by fans and serious collectors alike, throughout Europe and America, whilst the artist has exhibited extensively on both side of the Atlantic since turning professional. In terms of perhaps his most well-received series of paintings, and the illustratively sublime quartet of musical portraits released recently are said to have garnered plaudits far and wide, and pictorially found themselves on familiar painted ground by harbouring atmospheric loyalties to Labarre’s resolute passion and respect for jazz.