Interstate in Spring
James Lahey: back to Artist
I began this project at the request of ABC Life Literacy in 2009. I had wondered exactly how I would create an
alphabet that would work within my existing studio practice and would have its own trajectory outside of the
system I operate within, that is, galleries and collectors — paintings, photographs and drawings.
At some point I decided that this project, the alphabet, should be treated as a work of art first and then from
that find a way to solve the question of individual letters; ABC sells individual letters to its sponsors.
In the early summer of 2010 I rode my motorcycle from Toronto to Santa Monica and then up the west coast
of California through Oregon and Washington into Vancouver. From Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier, my
brother and I followed the original route 66 as much as possible, however, there are many instances where one
has to use the interstate system. I fell in love with the typography of the Interstate signage, a font developed for
this system of roads called “Interstate”. In 2010 we began using interstate for some of the larger text works,
which have been part of exhibitions and publications since 2001. It seemed logical to me to extend that
affection for this typeface as a starting point for solving the project for ABC.
The final work for the studio was a single image of the entire alphabet, a vertical work with the Z’s placed on
the bottom right. The question of the individual letters as single works is drawn from my own memory of
learning to print in primary school. Cards with individual upper and lower case letters would be circulated
through the classroom. I remember that these letters had a raised felt texture, which we would trace with our
index finger. All 26 letter cards would be circulated and then placed back around the class like a frieze. The
exercise would be repeated, all 26 letters in both cases but this time in our orange notebooks with our
oversized red printer pencils, 3 lines for a capital and 2 for a “small” letter. I think it was grade 1.
The idea that an adult would re-engage with learning, that gesture of optimism, to me it deserved a project that
had at its essence two linked themes; communication and renewal. Interstate was developed precisely for its
clarity, its ability to communicate and the imagery I imposed on this slightly adjusted version of the font is
entirely made from images of trees blooming in spring, that moment of renewal, faith, optimism.
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.