Cologne

Attila Richard Lukacs

Galerie Dietmar Werle

The unusual and provocative works of the Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs show an unsettling world of half-naked men with shaved heads, their appearance possibly identifying them as members of the European and American urban youth movement broadly referred to as “punk.” Lukacs depicts these figures as small, diabolical, self-styled gods, whose rituals of pain, violence, and eroticism lie outside the moral categories of good and evil.

The artist first showed these paintings last spring in West Berlin, where he currently lives. In the new works he adds to his human figures, as an equal partner, a monkey, a character inspired by a well-known picture of Pieter Bruegel’s. Cunning, lecherous, curious, unrestrained, and greedy, the monkey participates in the punks’ rituals of violence, seduction, and intoxication. The dividing lines between human and animal are blurred; monkey and man become interchangeable.

Lukacs’ paintings are startling both in their technique—the actions take place against a background of gold leaf and tar, meticulously layered and eroded—and in what they show. These pictures are successfully frightening, an unusual achievement in the current tide of images. The events depicted are orgiastic, testifying to an erasure of the boundaries of the individual consciousness in a moist, warm intermingling with the group—to a release for a span from the unbearable suffering of individuality. Lukacs’ painted monkey-men throw themselves in utter surrender at the feet of the seducer, or gladly submit to be urinated upon, taking pleasure in their submission. These paintings tell the uncomfortable story of our repressed yearning for the liberation from our own personas that we might find in an orgy, reminding us that our proud ego is dictated by physical stimuli.

Christian and, more particularly, post-Christian philosophy have gradually separated the flesh-and-blood body from the thinking center. Bourgeois society explicitly belongs to the nonidentity of the physical life and the mind, taking its cue from a body of intellectual thought running from Theodor Adorno back to Hegel and beyond. Yet the ancient Greeks knew cogent arguments against such feeble, anemic, idealizing, and moralizing delusions, arguments embodied, for example, in Diogenes’ urinating and masturbating. The impulse for such gestures lives on today in the work of artists such as Lukacs and in the behavior of such social rebels as the punks, whose threatening but liberating negations and amorality constantly oppose the limiting, stylizing tendency toward the ideal. They tell us that life insists on its sensual rights, and that it consists of both the little and the big, the infernal and the sacred, the sublime and the bathetic.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Joachim Neugroschel.