Emil Lukas: Ringing of Distant Events

Review

Emil Lukas: Ringing of Distant Events

By Danica Willard Sachs May 7, 2015

Ringing of Distant Events, on view at Hosfelt Gallery, brings together works from four of Emil Lukas’ best-known yet methodologically distinct series: thread paintings, bubble paintings, larvae paintings, and puddle paintings. In each series, the artist employs a different labor-intensive process to create his abstract works. The exhibition highlights the artist’s strength in transcending the elemental components of painting. Finding alternative means of approaching canvas, paint, and the making of a line, Lukas’ works cease to exist as just two-dimensional paintings, hovering instead at the intersection between sculpture, drawing, and painting.

The exhibition takes its title from the opening artwork, The Ring of Distant Events #1438 (2015). Less painting, and more like weaving, the rainbows of vibrant colored thread that Lukas uses are drawn across the surface of a painted wood frame backed with a reflective film and affixed to the side with small nails. Countless layers of thread create a mesmerizing and tactile depth, moving Lukas’ work from two dimensions to three. AN increase in the density of thread toward the periphery of the frame results in the illusion of luminescence, as the glowing white surface of the reflective backing shows through the web of thread near the center of the painting. Similarly haptic and sculptural, Tri Condition #1439 (2015)—one of the two bubble paintings in the exhibition—is a plaster cast of bubble wrap. Lukas transforms this banal, human-made material into a honeycomb of vivid pastel color.

In the larvae paintings, which make up the bulk of the show, Lukas cedes control of the finished result of each painting to nature. To make each artwork, the artist employs blue bottle fly larvae that he sets loose next to pools of black ink on a gesso canvas. By manipulating light and heat, and the texture of the canvas, Lukas directs the larvae to move in different directions. In the simplest of these paintings, the results index the tiny bugs’ movement, each wiggling line the result of a flitting path across the surface of the canvas. To make the more dense paintings, like Cold Slope (2014), Lukas sometimes adds a thin coat of white wash between different bug painting sessions, which accumulate into a layered, weblike surface. 

Emil Lukas: Ringing of Distant Events; installation view, Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco. Photo: David Stroud.

Similar to the larvae paintings, Between Stars (2015) enlists natural forces as a collaborator, in this case employing the effects of gravity on paint to create this beguiling image. To make these, Lukas pulls back nodes of the canvas with thread attached to the wooden stretcher bar to create a small depression. Into this dimple in the surface of the canvas Lukas painstakingly pours paint, letting each layer dry completely before adding another color. Variation comes from the artist’s choice of hue, and in the viscosity of the paint, which dictates how much it pools and how quickly it dries. The result is like looking at a cross section of quartz, each shade a different ring around the center of the crater.

Emil Lukas’ paintings in Ringing of Distant Events are magnetic, luring the viewer in with their mystifying processes. The sparse installation of the exhibition makes good use of Hosfelt Gallery’s cavernous space, with most of the large paintings holding entire walls by themselves. This works to the advantage of viewers, allowing plenty of time and visual space to marvel at Lukas’ complex, differing processes. 

Emil Lukas: Ringing of Distant Events is on view at Hosfelt Gallery, in San Francisco, through May 9, 2015.

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