New York

Emil Lukas

John Post Lee Gallery

Emil Lukas’ medium is neither painting nor sculpture per se, but stratification. Though he may begin like a painter, with a surface, Emil Lukas compacts materials such as wood, glass, nails, rubber, oatmeal, motor oil, and paint into strata that encompass and surpass traditional modes of art-making. In Folded Collection, 1992, a large, rectangular piece of paper, placed on the floor, is divided into eight separate sections each of which undergoes a different transformative process: some are saturated, front and back, with painted abstractions, others are embroidered with needlepoint stitches that look like veins, one has a leaf sewn onto it. For Lukas, a surface is thus already a layer, something more than two-dimensional but not quite three (a fractal dimension). Folded Collection is not to be left lying on the floor—you pick it up like a map, fold it in half to create two strata, fold it again, and yet again. It becomes a (properly called) three-dimensional object. There were similar “stratified” objects made not of folds but of piles or stacks: you moved through the layers of Growth Collection, 1992—an aggregate of what are ostensibly eight large “paintings” leaning against the wall—as you would through the pages of a book. This process of interaction conveys Lukas’ strata from the third to the fourth dimension. Undo Folded Collection and it unfolds in time.

Lukas creates works that invoke sky (Corona, 1993) and water (River’s Skin, 1993); and others that include “organic material” such as fishheads (The Crossing, 1993) or smushed flies (Changing Sands, 1990). It is important to specify, however, that these paintings do not represent nature, but, rather, incorporate natural functions, abiding by a kind of “geological logic.” Stratification itself is the primary instance of this, but there are others: The Growth Collection contains a stratum in which watermelon seeds are affixed to a canvas and allowed to sprout, thus digging holes into the support surface. In this way, the strata-object encompasses its own decay as well as growth.

Corona, a painting about the size of the palm of your hand, does not merely depict a corona, rather, it employs the same effect used by Alberto Giacometti to create sculptures of the male figure that, no matter how closely you look at them, appear to be far away. In other words, it implements an optical law whereby the size of an object is proportional to the distance between the viewer and the object. Indeed, a corona itself is nothing but an optical effect, a ring of colored light seen around a luminous body. Thus, in Corona, Lukas does not depict a cosmic phenomenon so much as he creates an imaginary atmosphere (with attendant laws of perception), just as in his strata-objects he presents us with cross sections of a nonexistent earth (that is nevertheless palpably geological).

Keith Seward