Leopold Plotek


Leopold Plotek is one of our most profound and challenging artists. He paints the unpaintable. A recent visit I made to Berlin revealed a kinship between his new work and the current painting- obsessed landscape of that city. 

Perhaps the connection between Plotek’s work, which is informed by an acute sense of the existential relevance of the past, and a city scene in which his- tory is so visibly alive shouldn’t come as a surprise. Plotek’s new work resonates with that of Bernhard Heisig at Galerie Berlin; in Heisig’s show, “the German war painter of the 20th century” wrestles with the madness of history and the traditions of Max Beckmann and Lovis Corinth. At the Alte Nationalgalerie on the still battle—scarred Museumsinsel, we can find an influence on Plotek, at least in spirit, in the grand 19th-century Symbolist works of Arnold Bocklin. The riotous line, dark palette and deeply ironic theatre of Plotek’s The Very Bad Dream of Ruskin and The Hazing of Charles Darwin find correspondences with the early 20th-century paintings of Max Slevogt, one of the revelations of this museum. 

At the centre of Plotek’s Montreal show is a suite of three oil paintings inspired by Hermann Broch’s great novel The Death of Virgil. They are contemporary works in the Symbolist tradition that evoke, as the art historian David Peters Corbett notes, inner meanings; a search for reality through association, suggestion and indeterminacy; a transcription of the invisible into the visible. Almost three metres tall, the diptych The Death of the Poet: Homecoming depicts a cruciform figure above a harbour filled with boats rendered with a Japanese lightness of touch. To read Broch (whom George Steiner called “the greatest novelist European literature has produced since Joyce”) is to be submerged in words as if in colour, and in this there is accord between Plotek’s daring application of paint and the cumulative flow of language in a book he has known since the late 1970s. 

Plotek has referred to this painting as “an attempt to have Visions.” The effect of the work is powerful; one wants to kneel down before these “wave—planes of memory, wave—planes of seas” as though at an altar.