Painting in the Age of Art (Part 1)

    Thursday, January 18, 1996 to Friday, February 16, 1996


    Painting in the Age of Art is a series of three exhibitions dealing with the struggle by painters from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds to displace the cultural hegemony for which painting has, for so many years, acted as a central signifier. The first month in this series is an exhibition of paintings by Ottawa artist Laura Margita and Montreal artist Roman Varela. Curator Aoife Mac Namara has assembled the work of two artists whose work suggests alternatives to the traditions of Western figurative painting and their historical associations with power and cultural authority. The installation of Margita’s and Varela’s work at Gallery 101 adopts many of the convention of a salon-style museum exhibition of historical painting (richly coloured walls, labels and explanatory texts). This faux-traditional context highlights the subtle and obvious ways in which the artists’ work questions and subverts painterly tradition from within. Roman Varela’s paintings and painted photographs are the results of his intensive research into the social and religious symbols implicit in the history of painting. Drawing on his Mexican heritage and his academic training in traditional techniques, Varela proposes a creative and intuitive transformation of the compositions and methods of European easel painting. His canvases employ both historical and modern painting techniques to describe histories and legends – frequently through the study and reworking of compositions made familiar to us by textbook histories of art. Grounded in these histories, the works articulate a contemporary perspective on questions of existence, belief and mythology. Laura Margita’s paintings question the traditional equation – exemplified by Renaissance figurative painting – between craft, beauty and mastery over the object or figure depicted. In her new series of paintings on galvanized sheet metal, Margita portrays mythical figures acting out apocalyptic narratives of sex, love and death in lush landscapes reminiscent of an endemic paradise. Through her selective “plundering” of historical iconography from a variety of periods and styles, Margita destabilizes historical painting’s claim to a coherent and authoritative world-picture.