Pierre Julien’s new “semi-abstract-pop”: Peinture Extrême – Mise en plis at Galerie Nicolas Robert

Pierre Julien at Galerie Nicolas Robert

On view at Galerie Nicolas Robert (GNR) since mid-July, Mise en plis is the most recent exhibition of works by Franco-Ontarian artist Pierre Julien. In the context of the second edition of AGAC’s Peinture Extrême, this tiny but exquisite show presents several large format paintings and a few drawings by a man who exhibited just earlier this summer at Montreal’s brand new Galerie Youn.

Pierre Julien’s paintings are vivid, pleasing, intriguing. Even though he was trained in Montreal – he holds a certificate from UQAM and a BFA from Concordia – I’ve actually rarely seen anything quite like this in today’s Montreal arts scene. Neither simply abstract, nor simply pop, the works in Mise en plis are hardly classifiable, and offer a free and playful alternative to what’s often being made those days among younger-generation artists.

A discussion with the kind curator helped me better understand Julien’s practice, and made clearer the connections between the works on view and the rationale behind the show. Comparing Julien’s previous series – République (2010), Le Périmètre (2011), and Cadastres (2012) – with the one on view at GNR, one quickly notices a very interesting transition in the artist’s formal language from a style reminiscent of hard-edge painting – he admits having been influenced by artists such as Peter Halley, Bridget Riley and Yves Gaucher – to a looser kind of abstraction, one which integrates pop-ish and graphic design accents.

And yet, when one attends to the few drawings behind the front desk, on the floor in the center of the gallery, or – if you get this chance too – in Julien’s personal portfolio, one realizes that this “freer” language has always been there, even while he was painting à la hard-edge. (And actually, the drawings could have constituted an exhibition by themselves. Julien often uses pages from fashion magazines and draws on/modifies them to produce surprising results.)

I highly recommend this show, if only to appreciate the gorgeous forms and colours that surround the gallery space. But I would actually suggest going with Julien’s own conception of abstraction in mind: as the construction of a fictive space, rather than as a dissolution of the figurative. Then, I think, the visitor will be able to appreciate Julien’s work at fair value, and especially not as “easy abstraction.”

Galerie Nicolas Robert, space 524
Pierre Julien
Peinture Extrême – Mise en plis
July 18 – August 31, 2013

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