The paintings of Leopold Plotek are record keepers of time. On each surface lays the combined efforts of a lifetime of experience. With so much embedded in each painting, it is crucial to spend time in front of them in order to experience their full breadth of effect.
As an intern at the Koffler Centre of the Arts and a third year OCAD University Drawing and Painting student, I have plenty of reasons to spend my time studying Plotek’s exhibition. No Work, Nor Device, Nor Knowledge, Nor Wisdom spans five decades of Plotek’s career, from 1978 to the present.
Spending time with a painting is a worthwhile endeavour. There is only so much you can glean in an instant, and while exhibition guides are useful for providing context, the real history is on the surface.
Leopold Plotek, Bedlam’s Pilot, 1994, oil on canvas, 72 x 74”.
For the last few weeks I have been sitting in front of Bedlam’s Pilot, an almost-square canvas painted in 1994. The painting shows a dark monstrous hand, as it looms over a smoldering orange plaza. The church roof of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is hugged by the soothing glow of a blue canal, and seems to provide the only shelter from the chaos that is descending on the scene. I know from the exhibition guide that Plotek was contemplating the Black Plague as he made this work, but my relationship with the painting can go even further the longer I sit.
For me, the great hand, painted in heavily-oiled pitch-black looks to be warming itself over a burning city. The indifference of the gesture seems so cruel to me. The hand also looks like a dark ominous storm, suppressing the earth. Perhaps it is actually preparing to stamp the fires out with its great palm. There are many readings to discover.
This ambiguity of meaning is what gives the paintings in this exhibition a sense of universality. Plotek does not force his own interpretation on the viewer. His influence is present and he also allows for the visitor to brings their own history and narratives to the work. Leopold Plotek’s work is solid enough to relate to, but obscure enough to feel free with.
No work, Nor Device, Nor Knowledge, Nor Wisdom runs until March 19, 2017, giving you just enough time to sample these rich canvases.