John Armstrong
Paul Collins

Lakeshore  (2002-07)
oil on chromogenic print
20 x 30 inches (50.8 x 76.3 cm)

By blue Ontario’s shore,
As I mused of these warlike days and of peace return’d,
and the dead that return no more,
I listened to the Phantom by Ontario’s shore,
I heard the voice arising demanding bards.

Underneath the lessons of things, spirits, Nature, governments, ownership,
I swear I perceive other lessons.

Walt Whitman, By Blue Ontario’s Shore, 1856

installation view, Galerie ESCA, Nîmes, France, 2006→

Click to enlarge images ↓→

Lakeshore is an ongoing series of colour photographs on which we have painted words and images. The photographs depict urban and rural settings, interiors, and a variety of other subjects — principally in Canada and France.

We portray a lakeshore in our painted photographs in a figurative, personal and often oblique manner. Although some of our images do depict actual lakeshores, most have to do with our routine comings and goings, artistic and quotidian. We metaphorically represent the shore as a threshold, a place of contemplation, departure or arrival. The idea of a lakeshore as a poetic space of transition is an established genre in romantic art (and in Canadian painting in particular): we both recall and temper this by painting on images that are more often prosaic than wistful. The painting interrupts the photographs’ surface and the reading of the picture as a direct seamless window onto reality: the photograph becomes the painting’s ground. This emphasizes the photograph’s plasticity and creates a greater plurality of readings.

Our painted words are idiomatic and common expressions, maxims, and phrases from popular culture, predominantly in English or French. The words do not serve as captions for the images, but rather further our exploration of an expanded definition of lakeshore. The painted texts upend the traditional role that captions play — that of directing the viewer to a specific message conveyed by the photograph. The images painted on the photographs are of glasses, pails and other water containers: they are the most explicit bodies of water in the artwork.

We have extended the basic premise of the Lakeshore work by painting glasses directly on the wall and then projecting a simple animation on top. The projected animations are composed of a series of still photographs taken with a camera motor drive. In each still, the shape of a glass is masked out, illuminating the wall painting. Our recent animated films depict mundane events such as a school bus driving through an orange traffic light, or a clump of goldenrod swaying in the wind as a wave breaks on a rocky lakeshore behind.

Another component of Lakeshore is an ongoing series of short, anecdotal texts in either French and English that, like the photographs, recount our quotidian experiences. We have produced several DVDs in which our texts scroll over a repeating short video sequence.

Read Lakeshore texts by John Armstrong & Paul Collins

Read "Along the Lakeshore: an incantation for John & Paul," by Jeanne Randolph

Listen to Jeanne Randolph's "Along the Lakeshore" performed by Mathieu Chauvin and Paul Collins

See John Armstrong & Paul Collins on the Centre for Canadian Contemporary Art website