The exhibition of David Renaud's work at Galerie Anne Barrault is an exercise in exquisiteness. One walks into the gallery and is immediately enveloped by the perfection of this installation. Two large sculptures and three paintings, one circular, one squarish and one a triptych stretching along the right wall, inhabit this small space with ease and grace. Renaud's sculptural towers ground us on terra firma, while his paintings catapult us into a depthless outer space. The relationship between each object seems perfectly ordered, causing us to enter and traverse this jewel of a show without trepidation. And like the yellow brick road, we are led from point to point towards some unkown utopia never stopping to look where we are going.
Built upon repetition and pattern, Renaud's investigation combines sci-fi yearnings with a neo-pop geometry. From layered strata to haloed shapes, his work pulses and hums in zen-like emptiness - absolute presence, absolute essence. Only the surface is accessible; there is nothing beneath with which to connect on a blood-and-guts level.
Geometric abstraction was born out of the Cubist exploration of form and shape as they moved away from illusionistic space towards a constructed abstract space. No longer tied to the necessity to re-present 3D reality on a 2D plane, Braque, Picasso and others developed a language solely responsible to the picture's surface. From the De Stijl group in Holland, to the Constructivist movement in Russia, and the Bauhaus school in Germany, artists working with this abstract language confronted and constructed a reality in which shapes float or lay or cross or build free from gravity or narrative...weightless.
With Renaud's work we walk the line between illusionistic space and pure abstraction. It's weightlessness functions both as a conceptual and a visual metaphor. As with Mondrian or Albers, our eyes glide effortlessly over Renaud's 2D surfaces, lapping up the precision of his technique, marvelling in the plastic play of his design. We notice his palette, the gradations of color at times neon in their vibrancy, and we rest in the rational relationships existing between line and circle, horizontal and vertical. His paintings are tightly controlled, finely crafted feats of obsessive stroking...bands of color marching us upward or outward in syncopathic beat.
While exploring this visual play, his titles force us to re-frame initial impressions - One Night On Earth, Negative Day on Mercury - these are not pure abstraction but rather representations of futuristic fantasies...almost cartoon-like in their simplicity. We careen from high modernism to sci-fi illustration, as Renaud gives homage to cult-artist, Chris Foss, in the titling on one of his sculptures.
Honing in on his star imagery, the haloed, bulls eye pattern which dominates much of his work, one finds a rippling out from the central point of light (or depth) reminiscent of a ripple in a pond after a stone has been dropped. My thoughts naturally move towards the infinite universe filled with stars. I recall those towers (whether from some sci-fi film or actual photographs, I am not sure) sending out beeps to the universe searching desperately for an answering ping. I wonder how long we have been pinging the universe hoping that some thing, some where will answer our call. It is a lonely isle on which we live.
Renaud's towering monoliths, sentinels slick and pristine in their construction, appear to be objects that cannot float free from illusion, although they seem to want to. These towers are essentially bound to their skyscraper antecedents. Upon closer inspection, it seems that these are closed spaces without entrance or exit, in which the absence of porous exchange suggests a world of pure mechanization. I wonder about their functionality, their purpose, and think about a future in which these structures might exist.
Renaud allows us to see-saw between illusion and abstraction, narrative and poetry; we can experience and interpret simultaneously. And as we wander from object to object, a kind of super-chill hypnosis seems to lull us into lotophagi bliss neither caring nor desiring to travel any farther, the ping of Emerald City echoing faintly in the distance.
(Images: David Renaud, Negative Day On Mercury, 2004, acrylique sur bois, 130 x 390 cm; David Renaud, Sans titre (psychorelief), 2009, acrylique sur bois, 75 cm de diamètre; David Renaud, The Sentinel (d’après Chris Foss), 2009, technique mixte, machine à fumer, 212 cm de hauteur x 138 cm de diamètre. All images courtesy galerie anne barraultcourtesy galerie anne barrault.)