I still remember the very first time I sat as a model for a class being taught by Bogdan Luca. It was early in the year, this particular group of students were a bit unruly, one foot back in high-school, and it took us awhile to get set up.

By the time everyone was ready to go, he checked his watch and realized that I was entitled to take five minutes. He looked up at me and said, “Do you need a break?”
I had kept my pose for the lighting-setup, but also noticed that no one was yet working, so moved my back around enough to be able to extend, comfortably. So I said, “Thanks for asking, but I’m cool. Lets get some work done!” He turned to a student nearby and, sotto voce, said, “I like this guy.”

Witness II (Top photo)

As in all disciplines, there are some art teachers who are especially engaged, and some for whom it is far more a job than a calling. Bogdan engages not only with his own very high-level creative skill and intelligence, but also with his humane compassion and enthusiasm – which is an unfailingly energizing combination for students young and old.

He even regularly inspires his model! I’ve written three different poems, from interesting interactions in his classes, derived the central theme of one of my better essays from a cheeringly energetic in-class discussion he lead, and I even painted my best-ever greyscale self-portrait based on one of his lessons, which painting now adorns the back cover of my poetry book!

Having seen his skill and human sensitivity proven many times in class, I’ve been very eager for years now, to see his work in a gallery setting, eyeballs on pigment, instead of pixels. The difference? (Because to be clear, I like pixel versions of paintings also). The presence of a physical painting speaks to you more clearly, more specifically and uniquely. It is not a standard file, and cannot ever be mistaken as such – it is an individual piece of reality, speaking for itself.

Witness I

I finally got my wish on Sunday – Nada drove Catherine and I out to the beautiful town of Dundas Ontario (with which all three of us, instantly fell in love), to see Bogdan’s solo show at the airy, light-filled Carnegie Gallery.

Bogdan’s paintings spoke powerfully, and with great intelligence.

He had an excellent quote, and a formal artist’s statement, to go with the work.

The quote was especially sympathetic for me, since it made it very clear that he is after one of my own central themes (a big part of “Structural Happiness”) the questioning of our perceptions, beliefs, assumptions – so as to arrive at a more flexible, sensitive and ultimately useful understanding of our lives and others.

“We understand the world in a fragmentary and often contradictory way: personal experiences, images, ideas from other people’s heads, news, beliefs, dreams, fears and desires. We labour continuously to put these fragments together into some kind of overall picture that works for us on an individual level. I want to make paintings about this. Images that cannot quite be resolved and which remind us that the boundaries between imagination, waking life and dreaming are uncertain.”

I feel he achieves his stated goal very well, but I saw some special richness in his work worth remarking upon – both because it is so rare and also because it is so humane, and thus artistically powerful.

Phantom Cry

Psychology, and especially the struggle to overcome the level one (just wanting) self, in order to find deeper and more satisfying purposes, is a subject that used to be very popular in society at large. Infinitely less-so now, which is a shame in terms of richness of experience, and a tragedy for the culture as a whole.

The particular dividends of that difficult inner work are easy to spot – and every one of Bogdan’s paintings showed me something about his quality of mature empathy.

For many creators nowadays, style emerges and is settled-upon before a full-range of development has occurred. The work we see frequently shows us endless variations of the immature self – projected onto their various subjects.

Bogdan’s work reminded me of that old line – “Learn everything there is to know about painting, then forget it, one second before your brush touches canvas.” Indeed that struggle to combine deep knowledge with free naive insight is another of my favourite quests in art. Every piece in the show achieved this dissonant-harmonic balance.

But as I say, more interestingly to me as a writer – every one of the people, in every one of the images, was completely distinct in their quality of energy, intent, manner, expression – and the way he made sure to force us to work through the always-incorporated ambiguities, added hugely to their realism as humans, by denying us the ‘easy classification judgement’ of literal specificity, requiring not only our active participation, but also our awareness of this ever present inward-draw.

Empty Mirror

Hands are huge for me, and Bogdan’s subjects give us amazing expression with their hands – often combining wonderfully specific or resonant gesture, with energetic and exciting brush-strokes, never resolved away from the impulse.

Far more unusually, he is no less expressive with feet! The Shoes got me really excited – funny and smart, all at once, and again, so much about character!

Both Catherine and I were immediately struck by “Witness II” for the very same reason – that’s her, her quality of energy, spot-on! This is only the second time we’ve ever caught her perfectly captured, hanging in an art gallery – (the nude at the Barnes exhibit was so exact it made us laugh almost as hard as the Rousseau did).

I only wish I could live up to the sublime heroic wandering fool feeling of “Witness I” myself – it is definitely a long-term aspiration of mine – but my skull consistently rejects fedoras, despite all entreaties for haberdasherial conformity!

I came back again and again to “Phantom Cry” – particularly strong diversity of people and energies, and the teasingly almost-figurative ambiguity of the setting kept shifting in different directions, bleaker or more idyllic.

“Mask” does what a great self-portrait always should, peels back a layer, or in this case, several at once. Deconstructs one’s own too-easy facade – Bravo!

“Empty Mirror” fascinated all three of us. These guys are so full of complexity and richness, that they bring a whole world along with them, by their presence. Nada was especially delighted, “That is a Serbian man, exactly, look at the hat!”


But I think my very favourite work in the show may be “Seance.” The unbelievably natural energy of this group of people – the imaginative staging choices, not only different postures for each – but different states of mind, philosophies, and even blood-sugar levels! Somehow we sense none of them can quite see the haunting subconscious projection of nationalist glory, and yet all of them are feeling it, deeply. Wonderful work on so many levels.

Congratulations, Bogdan – the show is a genuine triumph, and your work is incredible! Encore, mon amis!


Artists Statement – THE INNER LIFE OF IMAGES

“I seek to create a surface that is always interrupted; that can never form a smooth or consistent whole. the same is true of the formal elements of the painting. Layering, high texture, realistic moments, purely abstract ones, collage elements – all working to undermine the whole. Although the figure is recognizable as an overall presence, the details are disorienting, requiring the viewer to recalibrate their understanding of what is seen. This is the experience of witnessing something that forces you to reconsider your relation to reality”

Bogdan Luca

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