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Charlotte Townsend-Gault

Luc Charette
Gallery Connexion, Fredericton, October 7 - 30, 1986

Vanguard, Vol.16 #1, March 1987.
[ 725 words ]

The exhibiting space at Gallery Connexion is not large. It is one of a series of rooms in the basement warren of the Justice Building in Fredericton; the artist members of the Gallery Connexion Co-op use the others as studios. The wall surfaces are irregular, either white-painted brick or gyproc. This is relevant, because Charette was apparently unable to resist the temptation to put too many works in the show. The result, precisely because of the dynamism of his constructed 'paintings,' is that the whole room — wall surfaces, ceiling, and windows — is brought indiscriminately to one's attention. The combined energies of this, presumably unintended, installation were inescapable. But because of the over-crowding, the specific sources of energy in individual pieces tended to get lost in riotous gesticulating.

Charette, who lives in Edmunston in northwest New Brunswick, has over the last ten years made installations and sculpture inspired by formalist and gestalt theories. Although still pursuing these concerns, he has placed his recent 'pictorial works' (as he calls them) firmly back on the wall. For all their shifting illusoriness, these Façades only permit one point of view.

The extent to which they could hold their own as discrete compositions against the larger environmental assemblage was the source of an intriguing tension in the room. Tension is anyway a crucial element in Charette's work. Every work is off-centre, off-true, top-heavy or visually precarious in some way. Whatever it is that keeps them from drifting away into the general surroundings, whatever holds the line between chaos and order, between coherence and upheaval, could be called tension.

The materials are a mixture of natural and person-made: industrial scrap, painted twigs, architectural ornament (real and fake), builder's materials, and a broken umbrella. The common thread in their diversity is that they all seem to be memories of shapes, shadows of other functions — the negative of some forgotten form turned positive in its absence.

In assembling these materials Charette builds up what he calls 'the architectural structure', which establishes the forms and the planes, positive and negative. The colours are then applied sequentially, each one in turn altering the character of the piece and suggesting the next one. The sequence may have been lost, but traces, shadows of these moves, remain in the works.

Charette has a predilection for half tones and they are cunningly applied. Gesture and accidents remain in evidence. The elements of the work, though they may be similar in shape or material or texture, differ by virtue of the application of the paint as much as by the colours. This also contributes to the range of references that the works exude: flowing water, flames, flight, are among the contributions to illusion made by the paint.

The best works present their façades, reveal, reach out — and then the elements that appear to be so active in this way reverse their roles, conceal and recede. There were three out of the ten that did not seem to work, which were just so many component parts adrift. But Slump, for instance, worked interestingly to make a nonsense of the support / surface dichotomy. Twinnnk dared to leave the middle empty. The 'frame' holds the emptiness in, even over-coming the distraction of the brick wall behind. It was a bold and successful reversal of those lines of Yeats that might reasonably come to mind, 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.' Fitsssu extended into empty space, beyond itself, with a sort of painterly version of the Canadarm.

These 'pictorial façades' are emphatically not an indulgence of glorious arabesques or of hedonistic materials in the manner of followers of Frank Stella and Nancy Graves. There is too great a sense of struggle with the elements, with the whole bag of tricks that have been developed to challenge the eye, to define the space, to create and destroy illusions of space, to heighten and flatten relief. Where Charette wins, he is able to use them even to frame the void in such a way that it may be avoided.


Vanguard, Vol.16 #1, March 1987.


Text: © Charlotte Townsend-Gault. All rights reserved.

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