Rene Pierre Allain:
With an essay by Robert Morgan

Edited, with an Introduction by James D. Campbell
Galerie de Bellefeuille

James D. Campbell

For almost twenty years, Rene Pierre Allain has worked tirelessly to build a corpus that seduces us even as it interrogates our biases, blurs the distinction between sculpture and painting, and liberally employs both icon and metaphor in its abstract language.

He has sustained our attention from series to series, work to work and, in so doing, has disabused us of the notion that abstraction has somehow entered a period of innovational decline. Indeed, in his case, the work is full of unforeseen developments the logic and rigor of which always impresses us in hindsight. He has always achieved a level of formal invention daunting in its sophistication and uncompromising in its formal demeanor.

This catalogue and exhibition are entitled 'Disjunctures' to signal the perplexing state of things his paintings so often bring on.  Ambiguity, structural and psychological tension, spatial distortions and iconographic menace all mean an experience for the observer that is not without a certain frisson  on both the perceptual and epistemological levels.

In his essay in the catalogue, the noted New York-based critic Robert Morgan has drawn attention to Allain's methodology of 'disjuncture' and astutely points out that he is an artist "who is intent on discovering some newly fractured eidetic form." The disjunctures in question are not only formal and structural in this work -- but carry over to our experience of it. By which I mean to say that Allain's works induce uncertainty even as they invite our reflection. And they have done so for well-nigh two decades.

In the new series Boucliers and Carapaces  on exhibit at Bellefeuille, Allain has shown he can up the ante once again, with works that seem to have burst the shackles of their frames, defying both gravity and our expectations as to what painting is. Whereas Allain has historically made the issue of what is sculptural and what is pictorial an ambiguous one, even while moving between them at will (I mean the plaster works, on the one hand, and the steel paintings, on the other, although which is painting and which sculpture is still very much in doubt), well, in his new work, he elides them.  Here is a seamless marriage of the sculptural and the pictorial in work which warps our perception and has a hauntingly anthropomorphic resonance even as it disconnects some of our indigenous presuppositions about the conventions of painting.

The Boucliers  and Carapaces  represent a bravura balancing act and count amongst his strongest works to this date.  The title Boucliers, which was influenced by African tribal shields, at once suggests a shielding from harm and a shielding of that which harms against anything which might in turn harm it…. Some of the shields on exhibit bow inwards, some outwards, some seem to wrestle with space itself, but all preserve a noteworthy structural tension which can and does induce a psychological tension in us, as we try to reconcile what appears  with what is  (for instance, seeming frontality with equally apparent recession and vice- versa) and decode an iconographic field which is as eloquent as it is unsettling. And we are encouraged to learn through our perceptual mistakes, for the brain never stops trying to solve the perceptual disparities in the work -- and this takes time. Some works seem to be in negative relief, some positive, some hinged and some buckling, some fixed and some in mid-flight -- and all call into account the so-called  'psychic unknown' because they are never what they first seem….

While the new works use linen and acrylic -- a seeming departure for Allain -- they are still constructed rather than painted. The acrylic surfaces are still progressively sanded down. Allain has still resisted the overtures of the paint brush and other traditional painting utensils, and the paint is liberally laced with plaster and other unexpected substances that release it from the context of conventional pigments conventionally applied….

The new painting/sculpture hybrids impress us with the subtlety of their inherent dynamism even as they call into question the accepted conventions of painting at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  Not only do these works possess the developmental necessity, metaphoric and  metamorphic integrity so characteristic of this body of work over long years, but they advance their author's implicit critique of modernist abstraction.  They do not conform to the tradition but neither are they contemptuous of it.  They have their own raison d'etre

Montreal, June 20, 2000

James D. Campbell is a distinguished curator and writer on art based in Montreal . His numerous publications include Depth Markers: Selected Art Writings 1985-1994 and the forthcoming Things the Mind Already Knows: Interpreting Jasper Johns.  He curated an institutional survey exhibition of Allain's Steel paintings which traveled in Canada and has written frequently on the artist's work.