Canadian Art

Review

Barry Allikas: Event Horizons

Division Gallery, Montreal Apr 9 to May 16 2009
Barry Allikas  <I>Event Horizon</I>  2009 Barry Allikas Event Horizon 2009

Barry Allikas <I>Event Horizon</I> 2009

Quebec, as the cliché goes, is a brand apart from the rest of the country. It’s always had a healthy appetite and facility with every wave of the avant-garde. European counterparts at mid-century sometimes balked at the non-objective: the Denmark-founded Cobra group could never resist the urge to top up the anthropomorphic with a hallucinatory cartoon face. Quebec, however, jumped on the AbEx bandwagon, and refitted it artfully. The Refus Global used the non-objective as a platform for its own brand of political and catholic iconoclasm. The later hard-edge tradition of Molinari, Gaucher and Barbeau had its own more imagistic stamp.

A rather doctrinaire modernist professor of mine once quipped when he heard that I was moving to Montreal, "There's nothing happening there." What he meant was, "They don't paint like us." It is something that can be said about Barry Allikas.

Allikas’s current show, “New Logic” at Galerie Division, displays a nimbleness of methodology that contrasts with the potentially dreary application of hard-edge tradition. He employs what can be described as postmodern stratagems, but they are more exactly a rigorous cobbling together of oblique methods where the aim is the solicitation of reflection.

Through a process of preliminary computer drawings, compositional adjustments and painstaking paint application, Allikas brings his paintings to a point of visual indecision: they don’t seem drawn, or cropped, or sometimes even like full paintings. But the elements hang together with a certain tension of intent. They evoke a response in the viewer usually reserved for the more operatically painted: a sense of the enigmatic, of potentiality and of that essential element—a faint, lingering scent of the sinister.

This roundabout aesthetic allows Allikas a visual range that escapes most serial art. Heart Throb is a dynamic composition ironically contrasted with the brushless paint and carved shapes of more doctrinaire hard-edge compositions. At first glance, the colour is suitably deadpan: the reds, blues and whites don't vary in repetition and seem disarmingly commercial. The wobbling, scribbled image, however, pulses out and around a blob-like central shape levelled at the viewer's heart, like a rave-age Motherwell.

Pierrot Lunaire is an arrhythmic jumble of shapes looking to make sense. They echo and meander like idiots, showing an optical flip-flop that hovers precariously between intense green-yellow and naked canvas: two paintings in one headspace. Allikas’ disjointed titles, while playful, hint at perceptual oddities. A certain psychic tipping point is suggested in Event Horizon, where a teardrop-shaped slab of naked canvas echoes its spatial and compositional ambiguity in sharp, carved echoes of red and yellow.

The artist found his way as a painter by steady reductionism. He has been producing variations and tweaks of hard-edge composition for close to two decades. “New Logic” is more deliberate in its ambiguity. Each piece is a meeting place between intent and act: an event horizon at the precipice of self. (372 rue Ste-Catherine #311, Montreal QC)

This article was first published online on April 16, 2009.

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