Of Ice and Wonder: J.J. L’Heureux

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Her studio is in Venice, Calif., but her work is more far flung.  J.J. L’Heureux is a photographic artist, painter, and naturalist – and she justifiably describes herself as an adventurer as well. Having travelled annually to Antarctica, studied penguins, seals, and whales, and photographed Admiral Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Cape Royds Huts along with the wildlife, the artist is indeed a world traveler to far-off places. Participating on a joint-venture with the London Zoo, she’s spent time in Russia; studied penguins in South Africa,  and written two books about these and other experiences. With current solo exhibitions at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through March 18, 2018, and the New York Hall of Science in New York through September 8 of this year, her work is as well-traveled as she is.

More locally, L’Heureux’s work is part of a group show, “At The Museum,” at the Oceanside Museum of Art, in Oceanside, until August 29th, and was recently a part of the Personal Narratives exhibition at the Annenberg Beach House.

Impressive travels and exhibit credentials, but it is her work itself that speaks the most strongly.  Both her artistic vision and her interests are an unusual and wondrous fusion of beauty and science – although perhaps they are one and the same, at least in L’Heureux’s eyes.

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Her Bergy Bit Series of paintings is abstract, creating fierce, images of refracted light in ice and snow. Like flowers expanding or butterfly wings, these stunning blue spectrum colors shift, delicate and formidable. A Bergy Bit is a large glacial ice chunk or small floating iceberg. Perhaps now more than ever, as our environment alters, her delicate yet powerful depictions of what lies beneath the surface impression of these geologic forms are profoundly moving and graceful.  Her work here evokes the pixilated dots of Seurat or even the brush work of Van Gogh up close; from a greater distance, it is a weaving of lace.

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L’Heureux says “The ice came alive to me in ways that transcended its coldness and vastness. There was spirit in those places…”

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More stark, are her towering glacial images in the series Ross Ice Shelf Photographs provides a stunning depiction of a 50-150-foot-high section of the shelf.White, aqua, pale blue, and an opalescent quality visually vibrate from the photographs. palette dominates, creates a sensation of awe and fragility within this vast image – the shelf itself, the artist notes, is the same size as France.  Once again, L’Heureux has found color within the ice, which seems both smooth and rough, harsh and fragile, all at the same time. So remote, so cold, yet so alive – these are the thoughts a viewer culls from the artist’s work here.

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Also in Antarctica,  L’Heureux photographed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut in Cape Royds in the Ross Sea. While there, she photographed the interior of the hut, from rustic bed to life-preserving stove, to supplies and boots, as well as its weather-beaten exterior, supply boxes, and isolated – which seems too tame a word – location. The photos here are still-lives of Shackleton’s life,  a document of history, images both humble and profound. 

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Similarly, her series Kamchatka Region – Russia serves as a series that depicts the history of a place, this one still quite lived-in. Residences, residents – including children, strollers, a play area – this is a unique landscape, and one through which L’Heureux captures both its differentness from more well-known regions of the world, and it’s sameness. We all love our children,  hope for their future.

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While these distant regions are a large part of the artist’s work, she has not forgotten her home base.  Photographs California Water depict dry land not water itself,  the stark effect of water policy and drought. Her Venice Beach Photographs are landscapes of a beach community that is gloriously quirky, images of luxury homes on Venice canals, of a discarded mattress with the words “Someone fell in love on me” written upon it.

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We’ve seen paintings and photographs, but L’Heureux offers one more art form in her quiver.

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Her Etichette Series is comprised of Italian fruit and cheese labels or etichette. What began as a hostess gift became a series of collected labels,  stitched together using her own unique knot. Inspired by Picasso and Braque’s paintings, these collages form both fascinating geometric patterns and shapes – and create their own unique landscapes of a region.

The most impressive thing about L’Heureux’s work may be that whether she is creating abstract paintings, layered collage travelogues, or stunning photographic landscapes and still-life, she reveals something special beneath the surface. If the artist loves ice, it may be for what it contains, mystery and magic; and for her, that same mysterious and alluring quality is present in a Russian playground and a Venice sunrise.

Offering us a rare look into something inchoate and yet profound, L’Heureux is an artist and a magician, a documentarian and a dreamer, all at once.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: provided by artist and Shoebox PR