The Canadian Art Database

Deirdre Hanna

Charles Rea, Attila Richard Lukacs
Mercer Union
C Magazine # 12, Winter 1987

[ 890 words ]

Recent history: last year a group of eight Vancouver artists were hurled into a degree of instant notoriety through an exhibit of paintings curated by Scott Watson at the Vancouver Art Gallery, The Young Romantics. From the vantage point of Toronto (the good) it was easy to remain skeptical about the real merit of the work. Romantics reeked of no-longer hot British bands, and with 1985 as The International Year of Youth, 'young' anything was a great scam for government funding. In Toronto (the solipsistic), painting had just worked through a heyday, an interest in architecture was on the horizon, and the trend towards sculpture had been reinforced by Philip Monk's recent appointment to the AGO. Significantly, although the Young Romantics work seemed interesting, it was not great in reproduction.

September 1986. Enter Attila Richard Lukacs and Charles Rea — two of the artists
featured as Young Romantics — with an exhibit of paintings at Mercer Union. Their arrival is anticipated with mixed ambivalence and curiosity. The work astonishes.

Rea and Lukacs share a common concern for the abstract painterly potential of the image surface. Rea demonstrates a Rubensian painterliness in that he models form with fluid, impasto oil paint. Lukacs mixes oils, tar and enamels on canvas to create a multitextural surface, with naturalistically delineated figures emerging from a fragmented, disintegrating picture plane. Although their treatment and handling differ, Rea and Lukacs share a compelling tactile quality which photographic reproductions fail to convey.

The limitation of photography combined with its widespread use as a reproductive medium has had a subtle impact upon the development of twentieth century aesthetic canons. Barbara Kruger's montage is never more brilliant than in xerox, and Mary Kelly's Interim simultaneously is being designed for gallery and published versions The product which travels best to the widest audience creates its own demand, while craft and technique assume increasingly subsidiary positions.

In Rea's recent series of paintings, surface becomes subject matter. The forms within the coherent illusionistic space described upon the picture plane provide Rea with a representational armature with which to create a painted surface. Rea''s recent series comes out of the earlier cathedral interiors painted on books, in which wall and ceiling paintings were represented as an integral part of the architecture. In the new series, based on Renaissance and baroque altarpieces and ceiling paintings as compositional models, the horse replaces the human as the basic figurative unit.

In 20,000 Years, Rea sets broad, streaky horses floating upon a broadly painted background in an improbable reworking of a Last Judgment in a Claudian landscape, complete with bridge in the middle distance. Supported by fragile burial platforms, the figures are firmly placed in an illusionistic spatial grid dictated by the convention of mathematical perspective. Artistic conventions are treated as tools, even figures become more significant as neutral marks than as objects. American Leonardo, present in this show in oil and pastel versions, points to Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari drawings as the direct source for the powerful, full flanked horses and the menacing vertical and diagonal poles as a compositional device.

Rea's reduction of the horse/figure to mark is demonstrated most clearly with the drawings. In Port-au-Prince, ostensibly a graphite drawing of a lighthouse, abstracted horses outline water, rocks and vegetation. Concentrating on line with pencil and crayon, and arbitrary blocks of colour with pastel, Rea demonstrates a consistency in his celebratory exploration of the integral qualities of the media he uses.

In contrast, Lukacs depicts repugnant figures engaged in disturbing and disturbed activities. By mixing chemically incompatible media, Lukacs accelerates the decay of the painted surfaces in reflection of the decadence of the subjects he chooses to represent. Photographs of Lukacs's images convey their shock value where the figures are painted as isolated pockets of reality in a crumbling surround. Il y a quinze ans que je n'ai pas ça consists of a tattooed version of Caravaggio's Bacchus as skinhead, coyly seated behind prison bars and wrapped in the entrails of a disemboweled minotaur, whose guts also form a cluster of cherubim.

Lukacs's paintings want to tell stories, in which the method of narrative is stronger than the narrative itself. Like That, a triptych, consists of a contemporary sado-masochistic scene set in the portrait gallery of a Jacobean country house. It reads like a pastiche of Leon Golub's Mercenaries series placed on a tapestry-like, cluttered ground, with leather and battle-fatigue clad male aggressors involved in the bestial degradation of humanity. A screeching monkey and multitudes of stag horns act as emblematic devices in Lukacs's essay on ritualized masculinity and abuse of power, which ironically is enacted in a shrine to aristocratic stability.

The strongest passages are the most visceral and ambiguous. Slight incongruities in the three panels heighten the viewer's unease with the scenario. Tar encrusted areas fester with melancholy. Lukacs displays a rare facility at creating surfaces which marry physical and abstract material. Regent and Weapon, a pair of small and eloquently restrained portraits, emerge through veils of cracked paint.

The rough surface, although not photogenic, carries a pathos and timelessness from the medievalized punks, who become at once aggressor and victim, warrior and martyr, deathmask and fashionplate. In Lukacs's surface a terrible beauty is born.

Text: © Deirdre Hanna. All rights reserved.

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