The first time I met Bogdan Luca was at an opening at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. It may well have been the opening of Neubacher Shor, but I can’t say I remember. I do remember that it was one of those rare nights in my recent past where I felt a more like a socialite than a homebody. The social buzz was coupled with the discovery of some fantastic art which convinced me to visit Luca’s studio, and write a post about his oil paintings. Since then, Luca has stood out to me as a bike-riding, white-squirrel coffee drinking Queen West neighbourhood fixture, so I was more than happy to meet up with him last week at NSC to discuss his new body of work.
Filling the entire gallery, the show was composed of huge charcoal drawings, photographs, and a conceptual element charting the movement of light and shadows amidst the gallery. Apparently, Luca “hit a wall” painting. Frustrated by every technical and conventional aspect of the medium, he embarked on a residency in Berlin last summer determined to create work that was “not material.” He wanted to create a body of work that concerned the state of being present in relation to a particular space. He also very much wanted not to paint.
The framed photographs positioned in the far gallery represented the culmination of this work in Germany. Each image is a documentary compressed. For instance, one image was created by overlaying photographs taken every time a plane flew overhead within the space of an hour. The aesthetic component arises almost incidentally from the overlay, but because the impetus to photograph was governed by a predetermined external factor, the resulting outcome of the image is beyond Luca’s control. This is not painting.
Also in this gallery is a series of lines and annotations in which Luca has traced patterns of light coming from the windows onto the floor or walls. Again, the artist is reveling in his lack of control over the outcome of the patterns created by these lines. Reacting to his frustration with the expectations and aesthetic conventions of painting, he is allowing these lines to trace his particular musings on not only light and its resulting death into shadow, but its interaction with the world around it, and his own sense of “being.” The tracings form a catalogue of the most profoundly mundane aspects of the space-time continuum.
The third element of the show is a series of diminutive unframed photographs juxtaposing some of the other larger works. These photos toy with the viewer like an editor’s cheeky comments in a margin. Again, Luca is concerned with his perceived complications of depiction. The photos are virtually abstract. One approximates a photo of a constellation until a staple in the corner reveals that it is a photo of the artist’s studio floor. “When you make a drawing to depict, the image is not free,” baits Luca. A pointed question of clarification leads to his retort- “The image is me!”
It’s so interesting how much of an artist is revealed in their practice. The work I’ve described above is fascinating as it so graphically illustrates the meandering introspections of a highly creative mind. I must admit however, I was definitely not frustrated by Bogdan Luca’s painting practice.
The final portion of the show consists of a series of six of large charcoal works on paper created since September. They are primarily highly technical representations of the elements. There is a panoramic sky, a sprawling ocean, a close-up of a fire, and a forest fire where the flames are ironically rendered through the pure absence of the burnt medium used to create the drawing.”I like to draw things that are hard to draw,” he admits.
The day I was there, the normally spacious gallery is starting to fill up with slick white and silver tables and chairs in preparation for an event in the evening. I have to slide between a pair of bubble wrapped side-boards to get a good look at what emerged as my favourite piece in the show. Another massive charcoal drawing, this one bucked the entire exhibition’s anti-material motif. Featuring an immense and jagged cliff off of which a pair of surreal or maybe simply delusive bells have fallen haphazardly onto the ground, as small silhouette of a bystander is portrayed standing towards us with one leg crooked on a boulder as if posing for a tourist snap. The piece is pure narrative. My own mind wanders into the various incarnations of the five w’s and I am reminded of the joy in viewing art that follows the very conventions Luca is frustrated with. ”This one’s different,” I mention, cuing Luca’s explanation. “Yes,” he admits. ” I wanted to do something with bells…”
I won’t write exactly what I told Luca that this painting meant to me, but I will admit that I am relieved that regardless of how frustrated he may be, there is concrete evidence that the aesthetics of painting are still very much a part of this artist’s vision, regardless of his current practice. I hope that these technical practice pieces and meta-cognitive explorations somehow lead him back to painting- but that’s just my opinion. One of Luca’s next projects includes a visionary architectural work during his upcoming residency in the Arctic Circle. Not painting.