Live Bait, 1987-88
Oil on canvas, 72 ¾ x 68 in. (185 x 173 cm)
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre. Gift of Linda Boorman, 2013
Leopold Plotek is a celebrated figure in Canadian painting, known for his sophisticated technique and deep intellectualism. His works often engage with the past, envisioning specific historical moments through a dark lens, including references to classical art, architecture, philosophy and literature. Born in Moscow in 1948, Plotek left the Soviet Union with his family and immigrated to Canada via Warsaw, Poland in 1960. He has since lived and worked in Montréal. Plotek studied at McGill University, Sir George Williams University and the Slade School of Art in London, England. He is currently a Professor of Fine Arts at Concordia University. His paintings are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Canada Council Art Bank, as well as numerous other corporate, institutional and private collections.
Typical of Plotek’s work from the mid-1980s, Live Bait is a large and looming canvas with idiosyncratic subject matter and a vertiginous composition. Expertly executed in a sombre, muted palette, the oil painting evokes the depth and monumentality of a theatre stage set. The effect of this painting is powerful; it exudes a sense of drama that is at once unsettling and transcendent. Irregular green, black and brown forms that oscillate between figurative and architectural emerge from a rich dark background. The dynamic overlapping, merging and morphing of shapes is reminiscent of Synthetic Cubism. Even though there are no discernable figures in Live Bait, an ominous human presence is palpable. As Critic James D. Campbell remarks in his essay “Against Gravity: Leopold Plotek and the Imagery of Height”, “Plotek’s painting is allegorical even when the subjects of his allegories seem fugitive, probably because they hide in plain sight. […]They may draw upon history and politics, in which specific historical persons and events are treated (Stalin, Voltaire, Blake) but they may also be figural allegories of ideas, in which specific characters personify abstract concepts.”
In 2012, the MacLaren presented a solo show of Plotek’s paintings, Hue and Cry, with Workingman’s Dead: Lives of the Artists, an exhibition featuring six large oil paintings by the artist in concert with a selection of photographs from our Sovfoto collection. Live Bait is the first work by Leopold Plotek to enter our collection, which has strong holdings in contemporary Canadian painting with work by James Lahey, David Craven, Shirley Wiitasalo, Will Gorlitz, among many others.