New York

René Pierre Allain

Julian Pretto Gallery

Without sentimentality or romance, René Pierre Allain’s paintings refer to flags, emblems, and abstracted floor plans of military fortifications. Heavily constructed of plaster, burlap, and steel, they do not speak of glorified testosterone and the stalwart virtues of dominance. Instead, Allain seems to be trying to negate the message of militarism associated with flags and heavy steel the references are clearly not approbatory.

The deflation of these aggressive signs is accomplished through his use of materials. Each thin layer of pigmented plaster is carefully sanded before the next layer is applied, and all of the borders are taped except the outside edge of the painting, which is left deliberately rough and uneven, suggesting a fragment of a fresco. The paintings are encased in heavy steel architectural frames blackened with gun blue. A gap between the image and its framing device provides a peeking space through which the burlap painting surface is revealed like flashed underwear. Focused, then, on the difference in the textures of slick colored plaster, rough untreated burlap, and gun-cold steel, the eye sees a compressed version of material differences. Signs that were originally thought of as aggressive now seem quiet and repressed. The striving for the formal essence, associated with Minimalism, has rendered the symbols harmless. By treating the materials with precision and reserve, they all collapse into silence and passivity.

In Ribbon No. 1, 1990-91, one of the smaller pieces in the show, two parallel red strips run like highway lines down the middle of a saturnine gray surface, suggesting a flag or a uniform’s epaulets. Encircled in a steel frame that is, in turn, encircled in another one, the whole piece suggests an architectural fragment as much as it does a painting.

In 2nd Stripes, 1991, a piece in which the plaster compound is tinted with alternating army green and gray stripes, and encased in a ponderous steel frame, the scale suggests a blown-up image of a military ribbon or insignia. As in the other works, the piece seems to depend on the unlikely combination of a straight-faced belief in the self-referentiality of abstraction and in art’s ability to function as social commentary.

Dena Shottenkirk