Luke Painter

Toronto

Luke Painter: Crystal Palace Warehouse (2012): Coloured and India ink of archival paper, 72 x 48 inches. Images courtesy LE Gallery, Toronto.Luke Painter: Crystal Palace Warehouse (2012): Coloured and India ink of archival paper, 72 x 48 inches. Images courtesy LE Gallery, Toronto.

By Carolyn Tripp

Luke Painter
LE Gallery
May 2 – 27, 2012

Up-close and in-person observation of Luke Painter’s newest drawings is essential if one is to experience their full palpability. In his latest exhibition, Anterior, every blade of grass pictured counts. Painter has returned to concepts explored in earlier series, revisiting them in greater detail and colour, deviating from past drawings that were typically in black and white. These new drawings, however, achieve the same ends, appearing both utopian and dystopian at the same time. This is particularly true of the exhibition's three largest pieces, which are as beautiful as they are big, with scenes so precisely rendered they act as windows through which we peer into subtle, alternate realities.

Luke Painter: Two Towers of William Morris (2012): Coloured and India ink on archival paper, 34 x 48 inchesLuke Painter: Two Towers of William Morris (2012): Coloured and India ink on archival paper, 34 x 48 inchesPainter's focus on the architectural and textile interests of 19th Century artist, designer and author William Morris is compelling. He takes cues from architectural details of Morris’ old abodes and the textile patterns he designed within the collective Marshall, Morris, Faulkner & Co. Painter’s mind-boggling commitment to this level of detail is evident in his stained glass-like renderings within the structures of the drawings Woodland House and The Last Gasp of Sauron 2 (all works 2012). Perhaps not coincidentally, the author JRR Tolkien was also said to have been inspired by Morris’ modern fantasy literature.

Victorian references continue in the large Crystal Palace Warehouse. Here, Painter faithfully details the glass structure that housed the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London. However, in his rendition, there are no allusions to the feats of the industrial revolution displayed at the fair. Rather, Painter represents the gardening prowess for which the Crystal Palace's architect and landscape designer Joseph Paxton was also well-known. The unsettling notion here is the geographical uncertainty. There is nothing but thick fog or smoke on the exterior, a possible allusion to the palace’s destruction by fire in 1936. Among the 100,000 people who came to watch the unquenchable flames was Winston Churchill, who remarked that it was the end of an age.

Painter’s painstaking control of his black and coloured India inks is admirable. He has the clean lines of a comic artist without attributing proportions to his subjects that may otherwise render them cartoonish. The lines in his rendering of smoke and leafless trees, both recurring motifs in his work, tighten the compositions when coupled with these lonely structures. Here, Painter reminds us of the cost of humanity’s settlements, portraying freshly felled trees in the wake of each structure. Similarly, Morris was aware of the effects of the industrial revolution on nature, and has often been referred to as a forerunner of modern environmentalism. While not a central theme, it’s certainly reoccurring, with ominous monuments in the middle of nowhere, apart from civilization, including the series of drawings picturing small houses clutched by large, wooden hands.

When artists make large-for-the-sake-of-large works, the concept can get lost in the oversized spread of paper or canvas, and the results can be disappointing. The Victorian Era lasted over 60 years, and was marked aesthetically by a dedication to craftsmanship and beauty. Victorian society also had to consider the social and environmental consequences of the industrial revolution of the earlier part of the century. Painter's drawings assay the multitudinous concerns of the 19th Century with grace and an understanding of why the era of industrialization was so enticing, romantic and ultimately terrifying.

Carolyn TrippCarolyn Tripp is a Toronto-based artist and writer whose work has been featured at the Contact Photography Festival (Contacting Toronto), the Gladstone Hotel (upArt), the Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1 and the Toronto Urban Film Festival. She has been published in Eye Weekly, Broken Pencil, and Spacing and C magazines.