McBride Contemporain presents Thinking Inside the Box, Montreal-based hard-edge painter Barry Allikas’ third one person show with the gallery. Allikas is a veteran abstract painter, with a body of work in post-painterly abstraction that runs a wide gamut of formal concerns, but always turns out powerful and fascinating results. Not often working in tight series, and having brought a high degree of unorthodoxy to the practice of hard-edge abstraction both conceptually and pictorially, Allikas is nevertheless steeped in the history of his profession, and is deeply knowledgeable about his modern and contemporary antecedents. He has often invoked and sourced his historic influences, from the Quebec Plasticiens, to American and European artists as varied as Josef Albers and Peter Halley, Bridget Riley and Daniel Buren - and while he has learned from them all he has always conjured a signature style of his own.
In this body of work, Allikas has turned to the idea of seriality and a more focused, repeated compositional strategy, to resonantly address the idea of containment and the contained. During these past two years, Allikas has dwelt on this formidable dichotomy - as in some sense, we all perhaps have. A painting is a container of sorts, as is a room, as are laws and norms of society. But that which a painting contains is itself, and in this sense, resembles a person more than a concept - both artworks and people are self-referential in effect, a similarity Allikas wishes to put forward as a healing insight. The complexities and ambiguities of this existential and social situation finally resolved in the artist’s mind into a composite image, one that invokes an interior space, or a map of some kind, or a glyph indicating an enclosure - but one that appears also to radiate out, to lead to an “outside”, a beyond.
These beautiful paintings, executed with Allikas’ ever-present perfectionism of line, present the viewer with both a simple and resolved situation, and one which implies a great and unresolvable complexity at the same time. Each piece, primarily differentiated by colour from its fellows, creates a different and mesmerizing effect. The paintings in some sense look back at us, making explicit the profound sense in which both they and we can be and are the contained, and the container. Never becoming too literal, these works represent a concentration of this trope, a metaphorical sweep that performs and encourages a cathartic reaction in the viewer, a kind of freedom.
Barry Allikas is a Montreal-based painter who is one of the strongest exponents of post-painterly abstraction in Canada. For decades, Allikas has been producing some of the best abstract paintings in Canada, a fact attested to by his inclusion in Roald Nasgaard’s landmark study “Abstract Painting in Canada”, and being listed by the Montreal Gazette as one of the top five abstract painters in Montreal. His work can be found in numerous private, corporate, and museum collections, among them the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Musée d’art de Joliette, Hydro-Québec, the Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec, and the Banque nationale du Canada.