81 Leonard Gallery is pleased to present Ivan Le Pays: A Line Alone, on view from April 13th through May 30th, 2023.

For the occasion of the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, Le Pays has created a new body of paintings in response to the California landscape. With mountains reaching toward the sky and hills sloping into winding roads—all detailed in fine linework—Le Pays captures the sublime through simplicity.

Le Pays, from Paris, first visited California in 2019. He recalls following the lines of the desert in his car, getting purposefully lost and documenting his surroundings in film photography. He returned in 2022 to shoot the film A Line Alone, produced by Arc’teryx. The film explores the relationship between the body and the landscape through three media: tattooing, painting, and climbing.

During the film, Le Pays records climber Ashima Shiraishi’s ascent, slashing acrylic paint on canvas to trace her movements. The result of this collaboration is Le Pays’ Sequences, one of which is on view in the gallery alongside a screening of the film. Also featured in the film is the artist’s process of extracting lines from the natural environment, using a glass plate as both a viewfinder and drawing surface.

Back in the studio, Le Pays referenced his plein-air sketches and photographs to create a visual vocabulary for this body of work. 99shapes of California contains pictographs of the California landscape, informing the layered compositions in A Line Alone. Edges and curves of terrain, carved by both human and natural forces, become harmonious geometry in colorful, abstract arrangements.

Across the work, elongated shapes have an upward motion, energetically pointing to the sky, and in the Vertical Horizon series, the sky itself is the subject. The scale of the canvases mirror the body standing tall and the verticality of the California mountains, while the shifting colors capture the transitions between day and night. Le Pays has an obsession with height. He strives for it as a climber and artist, craving both the thrill and the view. Through the essential elements of line and color, Le Pays captures the beauty of the natural world and the transcendental experience of adventuring within it.

Ivan Le Pays (b. 1992 Nantes, France) is a Paris-based multimedia artist. He holds a Masters in Anthropology and Design from the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts (2016). While studying Chinese for seven years, he discovered calligraphy, and the line became a language to express his geometric vision of the world. He is currently a resident artist at Ateliers Wonder in Paris. An art teacher once told Ivan Le Pays a secret approach to paring a scene down to its bones – to squint. Through narrowed eyes, detail and complexity blur and outlines and global shapes appear. The Nantes-born, Paris-based artist has developed a sophisticated and sought-after style since that childhood art class, that exemplifies what the zen masters knew: simplicity is the ultimate goal of mastery.

Obsessed with architecture, and having studied industrial design in his birth city, at age 22 he followed the lure of the megacity to the University of Fine Arts in Shanghai, where he organized several group exhibits, completed a Masters in Anthropology and Design, and came to see the human body, also, as a form of architecture. For Le Pays, who studied Chinese for seven years, the world is full of images waiting to be turned into symbols. Lending themselves to unique tattoos, his stylized geometric shapes distill landscapes and cityscapes into elegant ideograms, similar to the way early Chinese characters synthesised an idea into a drawing. A book and film, Tatouage Sauvage, documented the journey he took to Alaska, to turn vast wild scenes into free-form tattoos that he would ink onto friends in the wind-lashed, bug-strewn settings they wanted to mark into a permanent memory. He has tattooed more than a 1000 people for his Tattoo Postcard project, inviting them to etch an important place in their lives onto skin. His admiration for a beautiful line has morphed into an addiction to watching people rock-climb, and he plans to return to Yosemite, California, to study the line play of rocks. He creates sculptures using abandoned furniture that he collects in the streets of Paris.

His relationship to landscapes materializes through the discovery of climbing. Through the movement of the body and the balance of his gestures, he relates the practice of climbing to painting.