Former NB Lieutenant Governor examines own identity through art

Former NB Lieutenant Governor Herménégilde Chiasson presents one of his self-portraits at the opening of his exhibit Identities. (Nicola MacLeod/AQ)

Herménégilde Chiasson has been photoshopping since before Photoshop existed.

This past Thursday, St. Thomas Univer­sity’s Yellow Box Gallery officially opened Identities, its newest exhibit. The collec­tion is from the early works of Chiasson, who was New Brunswick’s Lieutenant Governor from 2003 to 2009.

Chias­son is an accomplished Acadian artist. Originally from Saint-Simon, N.B., he’s worked with various mediums like film, photography, poetry and printmaking.

All of the prints in Identities appear to have been created with Photoshop, but instead were made with a silkscreen technique before the days of colour copying.

The exhibit is a series of prints illustrat­ing the struggle with fame in an artist’s identity. The pieces were created while Chiasson was an art student at Sorbonne University in Paris, France.

He was struggling with the concept of fame and decided to do the pieces as an exercise. The goal was to detach himself from desires like fortune and fame that prevent many artists from focusing on their work. After Chiasson had imagined himself as a celebrity, he would have one less thing obstructing his work.

The prints are all self-portraits of Chi­asson in which he hijacks existing prints of celebrities. Within the collection, there are depictions of Chiasson on a postage stamp, on the cover of Time magazine, in a tabloid and in an adver­tisement – all of which mark significant achievements as an artist. One of the portraits is a fake Andy Warhol print of Chiasson closely resembling “Four Marilyns.”

This is the first time Chiasson’s self-portraits, which were all done in Paris, have been shown together.

In his lecture before the exhibit open­ing, Chiasson said very few artists are famous in their lifetime. Society puts a high value on Vincent Van Gogh, who’s now a household name in art, but the artist never sold a single painting in his living career.

“If you’re famous in your lifetime, you’re probably an important artist,” said Chiasson.

According to Chiasson, who’s now an art history professor at the Université de Moncton, the idea of identity didn’t emerge until the 19th century, but now plays a vital role in our society. Each per­son, group and culture posses their own extensive identity.

Consequently, the clash in identities fuels many conflicts in our world, he said. Though fame was never an identity that Chiasson wanted, he wanted to exercise the myth of the celebrity artist in order to overcome it.

“Identities” will be displayed in the Yel­low Box Gallery until Feb. 15, 2012. The Yellow Box Gallery is located on the sec­ond floor of the Daniel O’Brien Study Hall in Margaret Norrie McCain Hall.