In the mid-1950s, Chicago was a center for magazine and book illustration, and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts was one of America’s leading commercial art schools. Drawn to that school and hoping for that kind of career, a young Canadian, Phillip Renaud (1934-2011), traveled here from Edmonton, Alberta not far from the village where his father ran a trading post. In the following decades, he got that career, putting illustrations into Playboy magazine, among others, and various grade-school textbooks. But his sharp, crisp design and sparse, minimal figure drawing is possibly more the result of his study at the Art Center in Pasadena, and those are the qualities that stand out in the current retrospective at the Palette and Chisel Academy, where he has been a popular instructor over the past decade.
Despite the years spent in illustration, Renaud’s figure drawings have much more in common with the great draftsmen of early Modernism, like Matisse or Modigliani. They’re more about line than subject matter, and though quickly executed, his students can attest that he spent some time thinking about each stroke of the conte crayon. The strongest and best are from the early nineties, when this exhibition begins.
Also included are many oil paintings of Midwestern landscape that are more about brushstrokes than trees and foliage. They don’t have a sense of place, so much as a sense of his restive personality and the impermanence of each moment as it flashes by. Like the work of other illustrators, these paintings may look better as printed reproductions, but you can sense the thought and planning that went into each project that seem to respond to a variety of specific challenges, often involving a limited palette. In other words, he seemed to enjoy being his own art director. The results are admirable but not always enjoyable, like acrobatics when it accompanies gymnastic competitions instead of ballet. (Chris Miller)
Through September 20 at Palette and Chisel, 1012 North Dearborn