A Week of Canadian Painting: Les Ramsay

Because we are a Canadian-run publication and we admire those who continue to work with the arguably dated medium of paint, in the arguably dismal landscape of the Canadian art-world, we have decided to do a week-long feature on some of our favorite current Canadian painters, in no particular order. Stay tuned this week to see who we believe to be among the greatest established and emerging painters the Great White North has to offer!

so_exotic_so_aloneSo Exotic, So Alone, 2016. Oil and acrylic on canvas with fabric assemblage, 50″ x 60″ 

Les Ramsay was born in Vancouver, B.C. and earned his M.F.A. at Concordia University, graduating in 2015. I remember serving him at the Concordia art store, and slowly became familiar with his work, which is some of the most innovative stuff I’ve seen come out of the painting program there in the last several years. 

Although Ramsay makes work in a number of different mediums, and has been labelling many of his newer pieces “fabric assemblages,” I really see him primarily as a painter, due to the fact that his 2D works are wrapped around wood stretchers and use a traditional rectangle shape. The reduced palette and the way the colours are placed show such thoughtful consideration, that it recalls a history of formalist painting. His pictures, often trapped or contained in some sort of frame, half-frame or border, release a feeling of anxiety. Ramsay balances this by taking a sort of kitchen sink approach to his compositions, applying small bits of shag carpet, yoga mat, or cut-outs from found needlepoint designs; adding a fun tactile quality to his paintings. The cross-contamination of low-brow fabrics with strips of linen sort of democratizes the picture-plane and adds a dose of humour. I’m not sure if the collecting comes first, but it seems that he then riffs off of those found items, echoing similar colours or geometric forms in paint. The paintings are often abstracted in some way, but don’t fall into bleak alien territory. His use of plaster and built up coats of paint is very sensual and makes the work feel like it has a human familiarity.

Ramsay’s process of recycling adds an interesting layer of time, balancing chance and spontaneity with meticulous design. Visual puns and comparisons keep the viewer engaged: where did that bit of bathroom towel come from? Whose was it? How old is it? Les Ramsay is one of the best Canadian painters on the come up, and I can’t wait to see what he will do next! :)  – Simone Blain

hellnowewontgoHell No We Won’t Go, 2016. Oil and acrylic on canvas with fabric assemblage, 72″ x 60″

comfortably_fleek Comfortably Fleek, 2016. Acrylic on canvas with fabric assemblage, 62″ x 48″

luxury_limbo Luxury Limbo, 2015. Acrylic and pencil on canvas with fabric assemblage, 62″ x 48″

Where did you grow up? What was the landscape like?
I grew up in the coastal town of White Rock B.C, to the south lies the Semiahmoo First Nation. It’s the most southwestern point of Canada before crossing the border; so growing up we spent a lot of time visiting the U.S. White Rock is a slow-paced beach town with substantial hills, plenty of forests, and no shortage of beautiful vantage points.

Do you think being Canadian has had any impact on your work?
No, not specifically, but I’ve always been fond of the prairies and desert landscapes near and far. I reference the coast and marine characteristics in many of my works as well; so the beach and the horizon play a big roll in my composition-building. I would say that landscape and setting are environments that affect me and the work that I make, rather than where I was born.

What is your favourite medium to work with?
Oil paint and collage.

What themes do you work with, if any?
I would say there’s a bit less of a theme, and more of an attitude towards materials, with a twist of kitsch and a dash of pop culture.


tumblr_o5okauzX5A1qzvt1so1_1280Plastic Passion, 2016. Fabric assemblage, 62″ x 48″



Acres & Acres, 2015. Fabric assemblage, 20″ x 16″


Are you inspired by any Canadian painters?
These questions are often difficult to narrow down without leaving people out. To name a few favourites I’ll say early Gordon Smith, David Milne, Allen Sapp, Tom Thompson, Gathie Falk, and the Painters Eleven.

Is there any one painter who has influenced your work more than others?
Probably Robert Rauschenberg, he was my first favourite artist. Many elements of his practice have inspired me to look outside of the box and to use materials that I normally would avoid.

Are you drawn to any particular historical art movement?
No, but the tongue-in-cheek, slapstick attitude of Dadaist art-making has always sat with me. Although at times I’m more interested in Craft and Folk art history than Art.

Do you consider your work to be political?
Yes, some of it more directly than others. My politics are personal and aesthetic. I want my work to create feelings so that people can develop their own narratives; my works rarely send direct messages.

What do you think is missing from the Canadian art scene?
I think there could be a stronger dialog between painters and curators east and west, which would then create some more interesting curation and exhibition possibilities.