Made in Canada – 1 Cent Portraits

Artist Statement


I suppose this project is more or less a memoir. It is, at least, my version of events (which I prefer) contained in, revealed through and drawn out using a series of pictures. Perhaps this way the project is more than a memoir — or, simultaneously, less than one.
For years I have maintained a journal — a series of notebooks in which I write to record and retrieve ideas and memories. These notes to myself aren’t accurate or inaccurate, honest or dishonest. They are conversations I’ve never had and conversations I wish I’d had. More often, they are simply conversations with myself.
Looking back through these notebooks proved to me that self-deception is underrated. Nevertheless, I decided to make sense of them, to make notes on the most significant years.
That list of years — completed, reduced, expanded and reduced again — became the basis for this project. Rather than impose my 1975, or 1966, or 1980 on anyone, it seemed to me enough to just let the year itself stand in for any detail — a portrait of a year.
I wanted to connect this idea to the earlier versions of “Made in Canada” and the penny seemed a perfect visual metaphor. Who doesn’t love a penny? Who doesn’t have a penny? Its modesty and its ubiquity. They stopped production in 2012, making the penny — like a memoir — a thing of the past.

In 1965 or 1966 my father took a trip on an aeroplane. I didn’t know anyone who had been on one before. I asked him to bring me some clouds from the sky.
A few days later Dad returned home with a small blue box. He handed me the box, explaining that inside were clouds from the sky.
“Careful” he said, “When you open it, don’t let it float back up to heaven.” And then, “I’ve put a penny on top to keep it from floating away.”
I still have my little piece of heaven and the penny that kept it from floating away — pennies and clouds, then and now.
We live with myths all our lives — big ones, little ones. Some we learn. Most we invent for ourselves. They are a way to live with the circumstances of our present. Half-truths, full truths, utter fiction — whatever it takes to get on with getting on. All of it, all of them, are a way to remember or to discover again who we once were.
I suppose my notebooks are the same — a way to find myself amongst all the stories I’ve told myself, the stories I’ve tried to live with and even the stories I’d rather not admit to. My version of events.
Perhaps I’ve resorted to pictures of those years as a way to avoid those admissions? Perhaps I’ve settled on pictures in order to have those conversations again, and maybe to fix some of the details once and for all.
Or maybe (and I prefer this version) a painting is the best way to let someone else find themselves in 1975, or 1966 or 1980?
So, this project is a memoir. My memoir, maybe. A memoir that is a version of events absent any deliberate misdirection and, I hope, with room to meander therein for anyone who wants to.
James Lahey Autumn 2021

Artist Biography

James Lahey is a Canadian artist living in Toronto, ON where he maintains his studio. He completed his BFA at York University in 1984 with studies in Art and Architecture in Italy (1982) through a joint programme with York University, Toronto and Lowell University, Massachusetts. In 1986 he obtained a certificate from the O.M.A. in the preservation of Art and Artifacts. Upon graduation, Lahey negotiated career and vocation, including positions at The Art Gallery at Harbourfront, The Power Plant, The Art Gallery of Ontario and Bruce Mau Design all located in Ontario, Canada. Since 1998, Lahey has concentrated exclusively on his painting practice and side projects in photography and collaborative outdoor installation projects.

In 2001, Lahey was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy and was a Member of the Board of Directors at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto 2009 through to 2012, and a past Member of the Board of Directors for Dancemakers. Currently, James is a Member of the Acquisitions Committee for the Photography Drawings Department of the Art Gallery of Ontario, a past member of the Acquisitions Committee for Prints and Drawings at The Art Gallery of Ontario, and a current member of the Advisory Board of PEN Canada.

James Lahey is represented in galleries across Canada, in Britain and the United States where his work can be found in numerous private and public collections. In 2005, the MacLaren Museum installed his “Index” exhibition Mark Kingwell. In 2007, “Index” was installed at The University of Toronto Art Centre. In 2008 James opened one person shows in New York and London where “your imperfect history” was published in conjunction with the exhibition by Flowers U.K. His project, “Guido’s Rhombus” opened at Museum London in the fall of 2009. A catalogue co-written by Ihor Holubizky, Curator of Contemporary Art at Museum London and Dennis Reid, Chief Curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario accompanied the exhibition. In 2011, “Eight Days” opened at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto ON. A publication produced in collaboration with Toronto writer and poet Lynn Crosbie accompanied that exhibition. James’ most recent exhibition “Photographs” took place in spring 2013 with a foreword to the exhibition provided by photography artist, Ed Burtynsky.

In 2015, Lahey’s large-scale public project, “Spring”, a collaboration with Concord Adex, was completed. The project’s initial parameters included selected glazing on the tower, the exterior of the roof top mechanical room and a pedestrian walkway, which required the installation of windscreens. The glazing installations start at ground level and continue through to the 36th floor — on the North and South sides of the building in a glass spine visible from both inside and outside the tower. “The Rooftop” project features a pixilated blossom visible from many miles away — from the 401 Highway and from the air. The pedestrian windscreens are 3 separate obelisks positioned near a central set of stairs that lead into the retail level of the tower. A secondary project was developed for the interior public areas where these same thematic concerns have been extended. There is a chromatic shift in these interior installations; while the exterior images are high chroma, the interior images are situated just next to black and white, with only a memory of colour.and published a catalogue of the same name with contributions by art writer Ihor Holubizky.