Canadian Art


Luke Painter: The Ornamentalist

LE Gallery, Toronto May 2 to 27 2012
Luke Painter <em>Crystal Palace Warehouse</em> 2012 Courtesy LE Gallery and Luke Painter Luke Painter Crystal Palace Warehouse 2012 Courtesy LE Gallery and Luke Painter

Luke Painter <em>Crystal Palace Warehouse</em> 2012 Courtesy LE Gallery and Luke Painter

Luke Painter’s current exhibition at LE Gallery in Toronto, entitled “Anterior,” features large India-ink drawings that might suggest why Victorian art critic John Ruskin and textile designer William Morris were so disparaging of industrialization’s inclination to barren surfaces. Many of the works in this show are influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, a tradition that dovetails with the artist’s tendency towards highly detailed and laborious drawing techniques. However, since Painter does look to other more recent influences, this exhibition could be viewed as a study of the broader scope of ornamental art history, and the painstaking hours of production as an act of visual research.

Stepping into the gallery evokes a strange sense of dislocation; the architectural structures and latticeworks of flora feel as familiar as art history–class slides, but the images that contain them seem suspended in some sort of surrealist dreamscape. While at first glance all the works appear to be referencing pre-modern eras of art history, they communally reflect one age-old concern: pattern making. Painter's interest in patterning—and its relation to the history of ornamentation—is rooted in ambiguous impulses. The Arts and Crafts, or sometimes gothic, patterns he recreates do not have clear symbolic meanings.

In Crystal Palace Warehouse, Painter uses the skeleton of the now-defunct Crystal Palace in London (which was designed by Joseph Paxton to host the Great Exhibition of 1851) to imagine a ghostly and slightly ominous greenhouse. In addition to being a result of his affection for patterning and architectural grandeur, Painter's techniques also draw upon of-the-moment artistic resources like Google 3D Warehouse, from which he pulled images as references for the plants, and other 3D software, which he uses to plan these intensely detailed images.

The Arch of William Morris also shows Painter's unique blending of historical periods. This image appears to retain symbolist abstruseness while playfully paying homage to Morris' famous textile patterns. The clean lines and meticulous inking of the individual green leaves covering the structure display a hyperreality that is created only when the artist decides to forgo depth-of-field techniques—something that the pre-Raphaelites and art-nouveau painters favoured as well.

Gothic Cathedral with Starry Night Nailpolish, a comparatively small drawing, is another work that melds architectural history and postmodern concerns; here, Painter couples the lofty gothic grandeur of a cathedral with a reference to contemporary fashion—nail polish in a trendy dark colour, a form of personal ornamentation.

Saarinen House, a huge drawing, stands as an ode to Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, a great advocate of the spirit of the Arts and Craft movement. What the artist depicts here is the home that Saarinen designed and furnished with those sensibilities in mind. Saarinen House can only be fully appreciated when standing before it in the gallery space, with the exaggerated attention to detail throughout the entire surface of the drawing speaking volumes about Painter’s concerns for the handmade.

This article was first published online on May 10, 2012.


  • Gallery Hop Sneak Peek: Wil Kucey at Le Gallery

    Listen in as art dealer Wil Kucey of Toronto’s Le Gallery discusses his upcoming September exhibition, some of his hottest emerging artists, his interest in graffiti and street art and how he defines his role as a dealer.



[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Black Birds

    New York critic Joseph R. Wolin heads to the Park Avenue Armory where Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are creating a buzz (and other sounds) at the US premiere of a dark, nightmarish installation originally created for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.

  • Grange Prize 2012: Hot Shots

    One of Canada’s largest cash-value art prizes—$65,000 in total with $50,000 going to the winner, $5,000 to three runners-up—announced its finalists this week. Take in their wide-ranging works in this slideshow.

  • Wanda Koop: Into the Woods

    A visit to Wanda Koop’s cabin near Riding Mountain National Park in southern Manitoba proves intriguing for Vancouver critic Robin Laurence. There, Laurence writes, Koop bridges old Grey Owl myths with a new series of paintings on our increasingly digital culture.

  • Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

    The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter. However, Xpace's lower gallery is an ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth's “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don't,” which evokes a cold-war bunker.

  • Wim Delvoye: Blame it on Paris

    Silk-covered pigs, lattice-cut car tires and a tattooed man are just a few of the works that Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has shuttled into the old, Gothic wing of the Louvre this summer. Jill Glessing reviews, finding a terrific amalgam of high and low.

More Online

Report a problem