Culture & Conversation

An Enchanting Lack

Drive-By is an apt name for the exhibition of Stephen Lack’s paintings at Galerie Pangée. The viewer’s eye roams Lack’s surreal canvasses, discovering new elements unexpectedly, before circling again. Though bright colors abound, many of the pieces are violent, disconnected, and strange. These are paintings that will get under your skin. 

Renowned for his central role in David Cronenberg’s 1980 horror flick Scanners, Lack is a native Montrealer whose rich career draws on a range of impressionist and cinematic influences. He avoids ascribing any unified interpretation to his work—many of his paintings actively eschew unity, in fact.  “My paintings are like a garden with different things blooming at different times,” Lack says. “They’re alive.” His work is at once beautiful and discomfiting.

Many of Lack’s pieces indeed evoke lack. Solitary figures drown in a sea of empty landscapes. A bright color palette conjures enchantment, but the dreamy pastels have ominous undertones. In fact, a good number of the pieces are veritably dripping with anxiety and loneliness. Lack’s artwork is like a vagrant mindscape made visible—Salvador Dali meets Edvard Munch. Except the existential anxieties at our core have rarely looked so jovial.

Mayhem II, one of the larger pieces in the collection, is an industrial, dream-like representation. The elements are disconnected: a boxy and cold building, a dog, a bike, a little girl running. At first glance it is easy to miss a vague silhouette in the distance forcing a blowjob on another. All the elements seem like afterthoughts, or outlines waiting to be filled in.

Radiant Suburb evokes the creeping discomfort and suburban suffocation of the Stepford Wives or Mad Men. It is one of Lack’s more traditionally beautiful paintings, although look at it long enough and it puts you ill at ease. Suburban life brings its own peculiar terrors, and Lack has captured them well. The red dot indicates it has been sold—corporate art for a company, the gallerist tells me.

Another piece, Edvard Munch’s daughter, depicts a tiny figure alone on a dark lawn, her back to the viewer. She is dwarfed by the massive house before her. Lack explains that he wanted to capture the sense of smallness children experience relative to the world around them. Somehow, I can’t tell why, this painting is even darker than the rest.

There are, also, more hopeful pieces. Your street stands 85″ tall, overwhelming the onlooker with a breathtaking horizon at the end of a pastel purple street. The emptiness reigning here is quiet and comforting.

It is funny how artwork can be so bright and whimsical and yet also so layered. Lack uses unexpected colors, lavishly bestowed with visible, broad strokes. More than anything his work evokes a series of glimpses and impressions spread across time. The paintings grow and evolve, inspiring psychological exploration, somehow evoking the blank canvas underneath.  “When you’ve got a film, it’s compressed in a linear fashion,” Lack explains. “A painting is more ephemeral than that.” Meaning expands in time and space, encapsulated in overarching themes of isolation and fear.

“So much of the world has a one-time use to it,” Lack says. “There’s just a melancholy about the passage of time slipping through our fingers.”

Drive-By runs until June 25th at Galerie Pangée, 40 rue Saint-Paul ouest

  • 4 Responses to “An Enchanting Lack”

    1. jonjost

      Steve also did lead in my own "All the Vermeers in New York" (1991) and we have an 85 minute documentary recently done on him, RANT, as painter and actor. If interested contact

    2. Peter Cummings

      As a long-departed Montrealer, I recently reconnected with Stephen and we are regularly in touch by e-mail, occasionally by phone and even had lunch in NYC a few months ago on the Upper West Side. His humor and energy are unchanged from 35 years ago, when we saw each other frequently while I was working for The Montreal Star. He had kept a copy of a review I had written of an opening he had in that era. He holds his history tightly in hand.

      Great review of the show at Galerie Pangee.

    3. Bretta Lundell

      Avidly collecting Lack's work for the past twenty-five years – he became best friends with my late husband, who started buying up Lacks before knowing Stephen back in the early '90's – I am thrilled to see that he is starting to get the recognition and attention he so well deserves. This is a great review and speaks (eloquently) for all of us who have felt the same way about Stephen and his art. Stephen deserves to be recognized in the broaderArt World, and I hope this review will be seen by many who are already there.


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