Ysabel LeMay’s Immersive Natural World
Ysabel LeMay morphs reality and fantasy through her discerning eye and indestructible patience. Her artworks are composed of a constellation of individual photographs that create a sense of wise natural beauty.
Austin, Texas-based artist Ysabel LeMay is gaining ever-widening recognition for her digitally composed panoramas of natural richness, which she creates through recombining photographs. LeMay reveals the real world remixed to paradisal perfection, so vividly realized that one feels drawn to step into her immersive tableaux.
Since winning the New York KiptonART Rising Stars Program in 2011, LeMay’s work has been seen in more than 115 exhibitions worldwide and acquired for corporate collections such as those of Chevron’s, Bloomingdale’s & Bacardi’s, as well as the permanent collections at the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Morris Museum.
In 2013, LeMay participated in the Texas Biennial, and in 2015, she represented Texas at the fourth edition of Women to Watch in Washington, D.C. In 2017, LeMay held a solo retrospective show at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey; and The U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies Program commissioned her work for the American Institute in Taiwan. In 2018, she was a visiting instructor at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop in New Mexico.
LeMay’s work lives in galleries, museums, and cultural spaces around the world. But where her work is born is in the wild, far from the trappings of human civilization.
“Why I do what I do? The answer changes just slightly each time I face the question because my path is a constant discovery. Discovery of new techniques and applications for my art. Discovery of truths about myself and who I am. It’s a path that leads me, again and again, to immerse myself in the beauty and intelligence of nature.” -Ysabel LeMay. Growing up in Quebec, Canada, LeMay fastened her connection to the natural world at her family’s cottage in the province’s northern wilderness.
Ysabel explains, “I’ve felt a deep attachment to nature since childhood. I grew up in the suburbs, but I felt free when I spent time in the wilderness. My creativity would awake almost instantly. I could wander and discover the living world to gain knowledge and wisdom that I considered worthy of expression. To this day, it’s a place I have to go to, as often as possible, or I feel lost.”
“I have to bear witness to nature’s vast diversity and endless variations. I have to immerse myself in its elegant logic and its subtle but undeniable fabric of interconnection. I follow my intuition and gather fragments of what I find there, following no plan or preconceptions.” -Ysabel LeMay
But it was the jungle of the advertising world where LeMay honed her visual expression. After 15 years in the industry, she sought a more rewarding path for her creativity, refocusing initially on painting and then photography. From there, LeMay developed her distinctive technique, called hyper-collage. Her practice, refined over more than a decade, sees her traveling the globe on photographic expeditions, accumulating vast reserves of natural imagery. She studiously reviews these reserves, extracting elements according to her intuition and assembling them into elaborate tableaux, venerating nature’s undeniable majesty and generosity.
“Once I return to my studio, the next stage of my artwork’s life begins. What I have gathered with my camera, which seemed so random, slowly reveals its purpose. And there is always a purpose. At this stage, the tools that I use are somewhat artificial, inorganic, created by the digital, virtual world. Though, the truths that they reveal are those of the natural, organic world, the world that made us.” -Ysabel LeMay
While her technique is high-tech, LeMay’s hyper-collage process is instinctual and organic, allowing each piece to dictate its own destiny. From a single, simple starting point — an image, a color, an emotion — she follows a meticulous process. After first isolating and extracting elements of her photos, LeMay then weaves them together into intricate compositions of radiant beauty. LeMay has brought her hyper-collages to a place where they now serve as records of natural splendor perpetually in motion – as expressed by an artist who herself shows no interest in standing still.
Never one to run in place, in November 2019, LeMay relocated her studio to a 24-foot RV and spent a sabbatical year traveling across America, from the lush Florida Everglades and the white sands of the Gulf Coast to the starry deserts of southern New Mexico and the magnificent wonders of Yellowstone. Spending time in the wilderness allowed her to reconnect with her nomadic nature and find inspiration for future projects away from the digital realm.
My works welcome viewers to participate, celebrate, and share in these conversations. If we’re willing to listen, nature can guide us to our paths and purposes and the peace inside ourselves that is the most authentic freedom. - Ysabel LeMay
In January 2021, she began a residency in Costa Rica. She is currently working on her first book featuring several of the works that went into her decade-long series Flourish. She intends to pair these with short stories. A believer in constant change and on-going education, LeMay has been experimenting with the application of more tactile media, including textiles and weaving, intending to include these in her next body of work. Lemay refuses to put all her eggs in one basket. She has adopted a more abstract vocabulary in her recent pictorial exploration, influenced by the Pacific coast’s geometry and light and the lush rainforest that she currently calls home. Currently, LeMay is represented in the U.S. by Christopher Martin Gallery from Aspen and Dallas.