The richness of oil paintings

On Friday I went to the openings of the new exhibitions at LE Gallery, “The Roving Iconist” by Bogdan Luca and “Sheltered” by Megan McCabe. Both young painters working mainly in oils, whom I’ve written about before and whose work seems to keep popping up around town, never cease to impress me. Given style and subject matter, they are an odd pairing, but it is mastery over the materials (a common theme at LE, and quickly becoming the surest way to my art-heart) that unites their oeuvres. Luca’s large-scale paintings had a certain news-photo-montage look, with helmeted figures building, labouring, and plotting away. The strict blue and magenta colour palette that Luca uses adds a separation of time, putting me in mind of tinted or monochromatic historical images. The lightness of his washes and bright drips sweeping down the canvases seems sinister, though. A sense of strategy pervades the exhibition and the figures seem caught in the cycles of creation and destruction.

McCabe’s oil paintings are a little more idyllic, mainly images of leisure or wandering in natural settings. Similar to her exhibition last summer (also at LE), the paintings held a nostalgic perspective, but this time the figures’ frolicking was tempered even more by a deep, dark colour palette and a certain distance afforded by the loose, active brushwork. One painting in particular, Waterfall, seemed like McCabe setting off in a new direction. The lines were more aggressive, the impasto thicker, and the situation more ambiguous.

To dismiss them as simply straight representations of upper-middle-class Canadian leisure activities would be missing the point. Most of the works featured a structure of some type or other—hence the title “Sheltered.” These ranged from the futuristic-looking domes of modern tents clustered together, to a crude lean-to made of sticks, the type often constructed and forgotten by kids at play. The human urge to build even the simplest hut, as a marker of civilization, conquest, or comfort, is an idea that underpins the exhibition, and reminds me how easy it can be to feel at home in the wilderness with just a tent, a backpack, and a few necessities. Good timing, since I am finally heading to the woods this weekend.