In the early 1980s, Lemieux made a firm decision to approach painting more symbolically, based on personal insight and emotional awareness, which, when transposed visually through a series of formal processes, transcends the pictorial space. These methods are easily identified by the modulating format of the works, their diagonal, often oblique lines, the play of scale and surface planes, and the steady presence of figures placed in opposition to their surroundings—depicted in close-up, from behind, or blurred. Untitled (1980) brings together the essential elements of this period— elements that were Lemieux’s signature characteristics throughout his long career: the winter scene, the immensity and the horizon, the snow-laden sky, and the lone character bundled in hat and scarf bearing an expression at once dignified, sincere, and sensitive. Discussing this period in Lemieux’s work, Marie Carani writes, “Many of Lemieux’s late drawings and paintings depict the great drama of modern humanity … All of his work addresses the duality of being and nothingness, truth and illusion, the face and the mask” (Jean Paul Lemieux, Musée du Québec and Publications du Québec, 1992).
At the end of the 1950s and throughout the decade that followed, Lemieux’s reputation experienced spectacular growth, both at home and abroad. He was honoured with solo exhibitions in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City, and his works were included in four biennial exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada. His paintings were also shown in the context of exhibitions on Canadian art at the Sao Paolo Biennale, the Brussels World Fair, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Palais Galliera in Paris. He also represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1960. In 1966, Lemieux became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1967, he won the Canada Council Medal, and in 1968, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada.