Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal
For some years now, Jean-Sébastien Denis has incorporated a process of anamorphosis into his work. We only have to think about the recent works he has created under the famous 1% Canadian program integrating art into architecture, an example of which is provided by the 54 canvases spectacularly gracing the walls of the new McGill University Health Centre (Montréal). Viewed from certain angles, they show straight lines and flat areas of colour, but effects of depth and relief emerge as the viewer moves around. The artist has, in his own way, succeeded in bridging the two dimensions of the flat surface to create the illusion of a third. We are witness to a certain expansion of space, an extension of planes, with those works; the movement of the viewer creates perspective. Ambiguous declarations about plasticity will soon follow.
Dense with layers of heterogeneous, “virtual”-seeming abstract imagery, Denis’ paintings can be read a number of ways, but it is still useful to begin with their immediate formal qualities, to understand their visual personality. Firstly, because they balance what would normally appear to be expressive effects like thick, painterly brushwork with graphic elements that are by contrast cooler in temperature, they could perhaps be understood as a postmodernist attempt to reconcile formalism with conceptualism. But his vast grammar of mark making, seen in the context of his finished products, within their neutral but still activated white fields, is more experimental than it may appear. This work is finally more questioning than answering in its phenomenological identity; it is a theoretical lexicon optically inscribed onto a tabula rasa.