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Barehanded Urge to Paint


Today, The Home Forum begins a series that explores aspects of artists at work. ``Art Now'' is succinct, introductory, and designed to capture art in motion before labels are applied. VICTOR LARA still gets a charge out of the ``old masters'' like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and El Greco, and over the years he still turns to them as much for inspiration as for pleasure. It is what he calls the ``old'' form. In his studio in his home in Barrington, R.I., he stacks large canvases one in front of another and just keeps painting on them like he's answering the same call to greatness that must have driven those art-historical dinosaurs.

Victor Lara supports himself by teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design. When he's not doing that or spending time with his family, he is painting. He pushes on out of a devotion to his art that is difficult for most of us to comprehend. It is a lot of time and energy spent. The rewards are impossible to measure in dollars. He has a studio filled with a priceless collection of his own work that at this point no one is really interested in. So why do it? For what? Is Victor Lara just crazy? Yep. About painting.

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What we have here are epics. Heavy paintings in the sense that they are heroic, that they take on the big picture. He has synthesized the space we associate with classical compositions, in that they are grand, larger than life; and with the Baroque, in that they are asymmetrical and dramatically illuminated. They possess that lofty majesty of frescoes. A rush of light and air. That billow of thunderheads. That push in and out and up, but with just enough gravity to keep it down. That sort of three-tiered space that aspires to divine light at the top, the inevitable mud and clay on the bottom, and the great jumble of life-tangled-up humanity and melting pot in-between.

These are passionate paintings, of extremes, about extremes. Victor Lara says that while his work has always been obsessive (his wife referred to one marathon painting he struggled with as ``the other woman''), it is different now. He says he wants to bring viewers into the work in the same way, but once they get there he wants to give them a simpler, freer, and more physical experience. In his most recent work, the forms dominate the space in a much more three-dimensional way than ever before.

This artist may look to the ``old'' form, but what is interesting to me is that the work is so fresh. If he imitated those painters he admires, his work would be predigested and pointless. This work is alive because he brings a vigor and intensity to the form that springs from being right here, right now.

He throws himself into the work with his bare hands, shaping the forms with paint on his fingertips. What emerges are abstractions, but the kind that don't mind being interpreted. There is always the element of play here, of adventure, and possibility. We can muse with them the way we might at clouds. Victor Lara just keeps pushing his paintings, and following them. He keeps making changes, he explains, but adds with a chuckle that probably no one but him would ever notice.

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