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rachel campbell johnston

A PICTURE, it was once suggested, should be seen as something between a thing and a thought. This could certainly be said of the work of Alain Senez. At first glance you might simply admire the proficiency with which he can capture the world around him, the skill with which he can render an image of anything from a piece of classical statuary to the waves of the sea. But on second glance it is the world that lies within this world of painted things that is intriguing.

THE CREATION of a "world-within-a-world" is an effective- and long standing - artistic device. It works a bit like a telescope that may be looked through from either end. Inspect the view through it one way, and everything leaps into sudden sharp focus. It seems immediate and distinct. But look through the opposite end and all certainties slide away. Reality retreats into an unreachable distance. The spectator feels surrounded by a sense of the sheer vastness of space.SENEZ uses this world-within-a-world device in his work. His images of paintings within paintings, of windows and doorways, of rooms beyond rooms and mirrored reflections, refuse simple approaches. This is not a show about things. It is about the angles from which we approach things, about the perspectives we take. It is not a show about views; it's about points of view. It's about mental vistas. To let your eye wander over the surface of these images is to allow it to roam through the chambers of thought.

It’s so CLEAR and yet so confusing at the same time. And this ambiguity lies at the heart of Senez's distinctive vision. He is an artist who can’t be pinned down. A brief glance at his -... biographical details is enough to know that. Over the course of a career begun in his native France, developed in Italy (as a Prix de Rome student) and now continuing in Brussels, he has imbibed the rich influences of European culture as his Autoportrait implies. Presenting his own image like a painting in a museum, he measures himself against the yardstick of art history, against the grand traditions of French portraiture, the timeless purity of Italian sculpture, the sophisticated techniques of the great Flemish masters.

BUT TO ISOLATE these influences is to destroy the atmosphere of his paintings - an atmosphere so thick that you can almost breathe it in. His are complex compositions - and not just literally, though he builds each up meticulously from a series of preparatory sketches. Each picture contains within itself a complex of questions. What is real what is false? What is natural what is artificial? What is outside what is inside? Senez never tells. But light in a room is a time-honoured metaphor for thoughts in the human mind. And it is surely this light that Senez now paints.


RACHEL CAMPBELL JOHNSTON Chief Art Critic for The Times