Denis Pellerin’s show, entitled pulsions organiques, could just as well be called Life. Just the name, organic pulse (loosely translated from the French) suggests the pulse of life, our blood flowing through our veins. Pellerin’s show, however, is not so much an exploration of human life as it is an exploration of nature.
The theme of nature is as Canadian as the Group of Seven. Say the words “Canadian art”, and ten to one most of us will think of trees, lakes, and the occasional snow capped mountain peak. In other words, what we think about are the visual interpretations of nature which stay true (more or less) to how we perceive reality. Pellerin’s art could not be more disconnected to this AND yet, at the same time, it is absolutely, 100% intrinsically connected to artists such as Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, and Emily Carr (a point I will return to later).
Pellerin’s art “breaks up” the seamless way we are accustomed to seeing our surroundings. By using discarded pieces of canvas and other found material in his studio, Pellerin’s art is a series of color strips and “color blobs” that do not blend from one neatly defined image into another. When you look at his work, your brain does not register “tree” with “sky” above it and “grass” beneath it the way it would if you were, say, taking a walk in the park. What you see, instead, is “tree”, “sky”, “grass” stripped to their bare, abstract minimum. “Tree”, “sky”, “grass” are reduced to line, color, and form without the comfort of visual reference. As such, Pellerin has stripped the image of everything that is not essential. It is not the detail of nature that interests him, but the essence.
Essence is a tricky word. It means the most basic part of what makes up the whole. It also means the thing we can’t see because the essence of something is not always obvious or visible. I guess one way to describe it is to imagine a vase of flowers on a dining room table. Take away the dining room paraphernalia of chairs, rugs, decorative plates… Take away any design on the vase…. take away these distracting details and all you have left is a flat surface with linear lines (the dining room table) and an oval shape (the vase) and more linear lines (the flower stems) and maybe a blob of color (the bud of the flower). Now strip the image some more… eventually you get to the essence.
When we talk about the essence of nature – like a tree, for example – the essence can also mean the “pulse” of the tree. Think of the word “pulse” and the images such a word brings to mind. Beat? Rhythm? Movement? Fluidity? Music? Dance? Life? It could be any of these words, all of these words, or none of these words, but chances are that your mind will equate the word “pulse” to an image having to do with the actions of living and celebrating.
To look at a Pellerin is to see the bare “pulse” of nature. It is this “pulse” that defines Pellerin’s work as Canadian and it is this “pulse” which makes me think of the connection to Canadian painters like Thomson, Harris, and Carr. Although not abstract painters, they, too, strived to attain the essence – the “pulse” – of nature. In doing so, they managed to show us the spirituality of nature, something I believe Pellerin’s work does as well. It is this absolute respect for the absolute essence of nature that ties these works together and makes them so Canadian.