“Life itself is a quotation.”
-- Jorge Luis Borges 
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL March, 2019
The new work of artist Louis Boudreault exhibited here seems at first wildly removed from his preceding portraits of famous local and international figures as children. But appearances can be deceiving, after all, and these embroidered quotes from the many poets, authors and singers who have inspired him are notable for the very things -- resonance, high formal invention and chromatic wherewithal – that we find in all his work.
Fragments d’écriture invokes the jouissance that is latent in living language. Words embroidered in multicoloured thread on varying lengths of white canvas become word paintings in a manner undreamt of by Mel Bochner. They spark epiphanies deep within us. They make us covetous. The texts are drawn from various distinguished Québec and French artists including Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Gaston Miron and Émile Nelligan, and major writers and thinkers such as Montaigne, Duras and Flaubert. Presumably chosen because they lit a fire in the artist’s imagination, the harvested words weave an auratic web.
Boudreault’s archive of quotations is sage, pungent and deep. Its compass is wide and cognate. A visual artist who has spent his entire lifetime surrounded and seduced by words, he knows whereof he speaks. The chromatic variety in a given quotation is like gilt gold: it sacralises the word(s) and pays them homage in a fitting setting.
In his splendid book Archive Fever, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida offers a poetic and expansive meditation on remembrance, time, and technology in a deconstructive analysis of the notion of archiving itself. The meaning of “archive” comes from the Greek word “Arkheion,” the house of the archons or magistrates. This was sanctum where documents were filed and the archons were their guardians. Examining the evocative relationship between technologies of inscription and sundry psychic processes, Derrida seeks to define his use of the word “impression” in his title, and the primary meaning is that of a literal, physical impression onto something, “that of an inscription which leaves a mark at the surface of in the thickness of a substrate”.  In other words, writing, making symbols -- or embroidering letters which form words and sentences on a linen ground.
If Boudreault has always been a savant at conjuring up truth and authenticity from intuitively coded colour charts and auratic portraiture, he is certainly no less astute when it comes to creative citation. As in his portraits, so, too here, Boudreault uses memory as the writer Angela Carter’s ‘lasso’ “with which we capture the past and haul it from chaos towards us in nicely ordered sequences, like those of baroque keyboard music." 
The words Boudreault chooses to memorialise seldom figure in the stable of quotation’s usual suspects. The phrases, once decanted, become like lines in their own poem, activated by a singular intensity of colour that is an epiphany in its own right. For instance, in “Soleil, avec tes aiguilles…”, the word Soleil occupies it own line at top, and the orange, brown and red chroma of its letters resembles a mass coronal ejection from the sun, warming the spirit, healing the mind.
The retroactive art of seizure he practised in his portraits is reprised here, but as a semantic restoration that still installs sense and reaches the threshold of aura. How? Each letter of every word is painstakingly sewn onto the linen backing, and each enjoys a chromatic signature different from but relatable to its neighbours, and from individual letters the open ends of the thread are like suggestive coloured ribbons, as Yukio Mishima said, “dangling down into the void.” The sewing, Boudreault’s own archiving technology, is at once restorative – and reparative, for it invokes a psychic space that is not reducible to memory and one not consigned to outer darkness. Words live on outside time and space, fate, necessity and circumstance in the archive.
Jack Kerouac, Robert Desnos, Marguerite Duras – the subjects whose words are sewn into the fabric of painting here, are willed to speak one more, made to resonate in the present tense of our engagement, and hence they live again inside us. And these are works of real distillation, spare and chromatically pure, but still bearing the savage imprint of divine excess that is the spoken word. And as I noted earlier, the formal invention of this work, understood as painting or its surrogate, is dauntingly high. For instance, the ends of the threads that form each letter recall with ecstatic insistence the pigment drippings in the work of Jean-Paul Riopelle and Jackson Pollock, an august augury of process, a souvenir of toil, a flourish of the reader’s future divination of the patterns that form sentiments uttered by significant others.
Boudreault’s choice when it comes to textuality is never to sacralise a so-called “good quote” but to intuitively seize upon what is, for him, especially resonant, even if were generally unknown or under read. There is a phenomenal delicacy in the act of making here that echoes Boudreault’s anterior work and bears further commenting upon. The drawn, handwritten template in his paintings not only foreshadows the sewn words, but acts as a sort of protective halo. It amplifies their effect by achieving an atmospheric volume interwoven with both memory and present readings, just as they are in our ‘reading’ of old photographs that continue to haunt and which, as Roland Barthes once observed, are rife with a suggestive and uncanny presence that cannot be exhausted in the looking. Boudreault’s cursive embroidery invokes an invisible plenum that seduces us effortlessly. His evident familiarity with and love for fonts and stitches stems from both sewing and book facture – and a lifetime devoted to writing and reading. The curvature of the letters lends a sort of rhythm to the reading of the work, an elegant and never hurried gait that draws the optic along the lines of linguistic embroidery in graceful complicity. Boudreault sometimes embroiders devices around the words so as to better highlight them, or better, consecrate them in time.
Boudreault’s own redoubtable archive fever embodies Derrida’s definition: “to burn with passion. It is to never rest…from searching for the archive right where it slips away… It is to have a compulsion, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement”.  Boudreault’s ruling passion is for the nest of words in which his imagination roosts and from which it takes flight.
Louis Boudreault is a native of the Magdalen Islands where he still maintains a house.He studied literature and theatre before deciding to devote himself to his art. In 1982, he joined the workshop of Édouard Mac’Avoy, the great Parisian master of the portrait. He then entered the École du Louvre. His work has been shown in many solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Asia and North America.
1. Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in Cool Memories (1987) by Jean Baudrillard, (trans. 1990) Ch. 5; heard by Baudrillard at a lecture given in Paris.
2. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Trans. Eric Prenowitz. (The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 1995, p.
3. See Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories (New York: Henry Holt, 2001).
4. Derrida, op. cit.
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.