In between realism and abstraction

Concordia graduate, Layla Folkmann works with her best friend and “artner,” Lacey Jane, as Layla & Lacey Art. Photos by Alex Hutchins.

Concordia alumna Layla Folkmann experiments with a new style in her latest exhibition

“It was really freeing,” said artist Layla Folkmann when asked what creating her newest exhibition was like. Folkmann, who identified as a figurative painter until recently, explored a completely new style while working on the pieces of her exhibition titled 3AM.

The artist, who moved from Edmonton to finish her BFA at Concordia about six years ago, is part of an artist duo with her best friend, Lacey Jane. The two call themselves “artners” and now work under the name Layla & Lacey Art. In the summer, Folkmann and Jane travel across the country and abroad painting murals. In the winter, they return to Montreal to dedicate time to their own work which is often exhibited in the BBAM! Gallery space. The artists have been working with the owners of BBAM! since moving to Montreal, and Folkmann said they are the duo’s biggest supporters.

It was Ralph Alfonso, who co-owns the gallery with his wife, Alison Rogers, who came up with the concept of 3AM for Folkmann’s exhibition. According to Folkmann, Alfonso suggested it because he felt the “magical time [of night]” suited her pieces. Folkmann experimented with more abstract techniques as a way to “break free” from her usual portraiture and figurative pieces. The practice of letting go of her realistic painting style evolved into a collection of 59 smaller pieces that now make up 3AM—one for every minute of the hour. It was by accident that Folkmann ended up with 59 pieces, but when the concept of time came up, it fit perfectly. Collectively, the works echo the intimate, tranquil energy of nighttime.

Folkmann’s pieces in 3AM began as an exercise with abstraction and evolved into an entire collection of work. Photos by Alex Hutchins.

The pieces, which were loosely inspired by nightscapes and out-of-focus photographs, range in colour from deep blues and purples to fiery reds and yellows. In an effort to step out of her comfort zone of using more vibrant colours, Folkmann began 3AM by working with neutral tones and subdued hues. The artist pointed to her pieces titled #16, #17, #18 and #19 as the beginning point of her experiment. These works are comprised of beiges, greys, soft purples and greens, with spots of yellow and white that emulate points of light in a blurry photograph.

The entirety of the exhibition is displayed on one wall of the gallery, which effectively illustrates a continuous flow, like minutes ticking by on a clock. Further down the wall from #19 are pieces titled #41 and #42, which Folkmann said are most effective when viewed as a pair. These two are on canvases the size of a hand, and are the artist’s favourite pieces out of the entire collection. “These are inspired by a landscape across a lake,” Folkmann said. “It’s dusk, and in the far-away distance you can see lights twinkling. Where the blues [are], you can see the inspiration of water and the sky in the nighttime.” #41 and #42 are finished with a glossy topcoat, catching the viewer’s eye and differentiating them from most of the other pieces, which have a matte finish.

Every piece in 3AM is a different size and shape. “I really admire people who use found objects and assemblages, and [who are] being creative with format. I find that if you’re just using a canvas of the same size all the time, it can get a bit repetitive,” Folkmann said. For these reasons, she decided to use found objects like frames and plaques, and repurpose them as the pieces in 3AM. “Each canvas or frame or whatever dictates what I’m going to paint on it. So each one is different. I’m not always starting in the same place, so it keeps it fresh,” the artist explained.

There are 59 pieces in 3AM—one for every minute of the hour. Photos by Alex Hutchins.

Keeping her work interesting, not only for the viewer but for herself, is an important aspect of Folkmann’s art practice. She said the switch from her usual realistic style to a more abstract technique came from her wanting to step away from an approach that demanded such accuracy and definition. Embracing a completely different technique, paired with using found materials and the freedom to create something “more genuine,” allowed Folkmann to remain interested and excited about her work.

After exploring abstraction through the pieces in 3AM, Folkmann mentioned that her approach to portraiture has changed as well. “I’m looking more at colour and light, as opposed to just the image and trying to copy the image. You’re never going to make it more accurate than the image, so I want to make it more interesting than the image,” the artist said. Going forward, Folkmann said she wants to practice both portraiture and abstract work simultaneously, saying that the styles can “have a really interesting conversation” when practiced alongside each other.

3AM will be displayed at BBAM! Gallery until Nov. 5. The gallery is located at 3255 St-Jacques St. and open Tuesday to Sunday, from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. (and until 8 p.m. on Fridays). Entry is free. For more information on the duo’s work, check out their website,, or Instagram page, @laceyandlaylaart.

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