In conversation, Lukacs emphasizes that he is just a painter, and that any interpretation of a group such as these nine men is actually indicative of the viewer’s intent. He turns the viewer into a voyeur – we are meant to consider his forms as sexually charged. However, even as we recognize the artist’s purpose as frankly erotic, something exists in these paintings that goes beyond the representation of young men in tight jeans and underwear. A curious gravitas hangs over the painting; this ambience of seriousness, inexorably linked to sexual expression, occurred throughout the show.
It may be that Lukacs is playing a confidence game. It would be easy to read these paintings as depictions of actual events in his life, and such a view would continue to mythologize an artist whose bad boy reputation tends to precede him. Yet one had the sense in this show that Lukacs is not aggrandizing his sexual preference so much as he is attempting a momentary utopia, which, while eroticized, also suggests a sharp awareness of mortality and idealized beauty.
Love in Contemplation (1997) is the most openly autobiographical of Lukacs’ paintings, for it incorporates his self-portrait. The painter sits on a bed on the right side of the painting, while the object of his gaze, a young man who is naked except for an expanse of white cloth covering his loins, reclines away from him. Lukacs extends his right arm across his knee, so that his hand just touches his lover’s chest.
While the two men’s legs are intertwined, there is no suggestion of sex. Instead, Lukacs looks resolutely and with complete solemnity at the object of his affection, who, his eyes closed, appears to be resting or sleeping. The atmosphere is further intensified by the red drapes, parted in the middle of the painting and partially covering Lukacs’ own nude body; written underneath the image are four phrases: “so lovely,” “so strong,” “so handsome,” “so long.”
Lukacs’ contemplation possesses religious significance, and here, if but for a moment, his depiction of the male body shifts from overt sexualization to exaltation. His gaze possesses unusual solemnity. There is also more than a slight intimation of mortality in the painting; the posture and the closed eyes of the young man might well be seen as representing someone who has died. Love and death are great themes in art; however, in light of the continuing AIDS epidemic and Lukacs’ homosexuality, Love in Contemplation takes on particular poignancy. The painting presents a strongly felt, sharply lucid moment in the artist’s life.
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