The Young Romantics are well represented in SFU’s art collection

On a massive canvas, tar, enamel, varathane, oil, and corduroy create images of bodies which frame a circular opening. Adorned with flowers, the opening looks like a ceremonial basin with ribbed bodies of fish descending into the opening, along with fleshy intestinal viscera that hang like sausages over a stove pot.

Attila Richard Lukacs’ painting, Trial & Error, also includes a young, nude male sitting upside-down on an inverted staircase. He holds a flute and is draped by an intestinal feather boa while another male body, also upside-down, is elongated on the opposite side of the surface.

The painting sits within the SFU Art Collection vault. It is dated 1986, which means it was completed within the year following the Young Romantics exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. This landmark exhibition of Vancouver painting was curated by Scott Watson and included Lukacs, along with Graham Gillmore, Angela Grossman, Vicky Marshall, Philippe Raphanel, Charles Rea, Derek Root, and Mina Totino.

Almost all of the artists represented in Young Romantics were recent graduates of Emily Carr College of Art & Design between 1979–85, and had already participated multiple shows together in the years leading up to large exhibition at the VAG.

In much the same way as the term ‘Vancouver School’ collects artists such as Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Ken Lum, Vikky Alexander, and Rodney Graham as photoconceptualists, the designation of ‘Young Romantics’ functions to group these eight artists within a particular style of painting.

While the former term has come to be thought of as representative of a regional aesthetic (aided in part by the term’s site-specific and pedagogic associations), the latter’s influence is less obvious to the non-Vancouverite. As outlined by Scott Watson “Toronto’s new painters are concerned with subject-matter and construct a didactic stance[. . .]. Vancouver’s young painters practise a métier and are concerned with the manipulation of their materials to an extent that sets them apart.”

This concern with materials is evident in Trial & Error, as well as in other works by these artists included in the SFU Art Collection. One work by Angela Grossman, titled The Wedding, is a large, multi-panel painting executed on old theatre flats using enamel, oil, and tar. These materials create an uneven surface upon which anthropomorphic forms haunt the intransigent lines of architectural decay. In Sound and Vision, Charles Rea represents the interior of the Pantheon in Rome by painting oil onto a surface of books.

With the exception of a few paintings scattered around the SFU Burnaby campus by Graham Gillmore, Vicky Alexander, and Derek Root, the majority of the works by these artists reside within the collection’s vault. While there are some massive works that would be difficult to install based purely on scale — such as Grossman’s The Wedding which, when assembled, measures approximately two by three metres — even the works on paper could be logistically difficult to display on the walls of SFU, since they need to be framed.

Scott Watson wrote that “today’s painters[. . .]react to the slick, polished look of the world of manufactured images they live in.” Thirty years on from when this was written, Watson’s words still ring true.