Roland Poulin

Olga Korper Gallery

The presence of Roland Poulin’s monumental, laminated wood sculptures is both formidable and disconcerting. Dense human-scale blocks penetrate the viewer’s space in an assertion of their physicality. Consisting of forms built up through a slow process of layering, covered with dense nuanced color, and then carved into, these two multipart works acquire a strong material presence that Poulin highlights by exposing the rough grain and edges of the wood. Intersecting planes and shifting related colors play tricks on our eyes, causing the spaces to advance and recede. It is this physical presence, the monolithic quality of his individual pieces, and their ability to neutralize everything else around them—in much the way that a sound room blankets out all but what is essential—that has been their strength since Poulin began working in wood.

In Le miroir reste opaque (The mirror stays opaque, 1989–90) part of a tablelike form is firmly wedged onto a larger block of wood, and yet there is no sense of inertia in this stable configuration; rather, the proliferation of contorted angles confronts the viewer at every vantage point, sustaining dynamic tension. Poulin uses gravity and mass in opposition to activate his signature sense of movement. This counterpoint play of gravity and mass is consistent with his handling of positive and negative space. In Le miroir reste opaque, two components continually play off each other. Where the leg of a tablelike shape projects into space from one component, an indentation matches it in the other, yet they never appear to be pieces of the same puzzle. Instead, they define the negative space as a property with a physical presence, which functions as a volume as opposed to a void.

Poulin is attempting to come to terms with the monument as a site from which to view the historical evolution of sculpture. He is working from within the sculptural idiom—making shapes that evoke burial sites, coffins, or gravestones—in search of the practice’s archaeological origins. Yet his articulation of space, through the use of mass, differs little from that of Auguste Rodin, who wished to evoke a sense of the underlying form of the figure by expanding its mass in order to displace the space around it. Though within the fine-art tradition, the abstract nature of Poulin’s sculpture precludes its consideration as part of the history of the civic monument, Poulin is nevertheless involved in an inquiry into the notion of the monument, not only in terms of its physical presence but as an object from which we can articulate our place in history.

Linda Genereux