Clay is such a primordial material. Versatile and pliable, it has been moulded to human emotions from time immemorial. In the hands of ceramist Eva Lapka, it evokes layers. With 20 pieces on display, Les Songes showcases the award-winning Montreal artist’s latest production. The works are purely sculptural, be it masks, heads, figures or torsos; all use the same visual lexicon that helps her mold her unique compositions. Lapka is a master potter, a virtuoso with glazes, putting each piece through multiple firings before applying the glazes and stains, and if not satisfied with the result, sends it back into the kiln.

In the Imaginary Portrait series, she combines her mastery of the medium with the artistry of sculpture, creating unforgettable, and often disturbing, images. Hands wrapped around faces, eyes closed, features almost obliterated, the grotesque rubbing shoulders with the exquisite. They are a scaled-down culmination of decades long career, which has seen Lapka go through several transitions while maintaining the calibre her work is known for, and honing the medium. A touch of theatre and a large dose of emotions go into her production, and the often-painful aspects of life, both personal and universal, find their outlet in her art. In Traces of Time, a trio of figures stands in for the inevitable passage of time, echoing Gustav Klimt’s The Three Ages of Woman. The allegory in Lapka’s version is cast in dark tones, its shape as if emerging from, or dissolving back into magma. One of the figures has a mask-like pale face, perhaps the artist’s way of assuaging the weightiness of the message, and the hint of something more sinister and closer to the surface that the trio conveys.

Lapka’s feel for the theatrical is on display in her wall installation Whispers, where several heads are arranged in a visual conversation. Or are they? Eyes closed, or non-existent, lips slightly parted, they seem lost in their own drama. They could be death masks in their silent witnessing, barely formed shapes of a dying emotion, or perhaps one being born… Once the narrative aspect of Lapka’s sculpture is absorbed, the visual, tactile component of the work comes into play: the finely webbed glazes, the unbearable fragility of the pieces, the subtle touch of colour that appears in some of them. These, and the portraits, are by far Lapka’s most accomplished works in the exhibition, the sophistication of both form and execution beyond par.

The nature-themed series Ruisseau en hiver present a different pictorial vocabulary. A female shape at the centre of each composition, recalls the undulating glimmer of a stream, melding into the background in some as if sinking into soft snow. These reliefs combine an evident joy the artist finds in the sculpting and firing process, with contemporary treatment pushing the boundaries of the medium. A geometric figure, a cross, interjects in each relief, at once a graphic insertion into the composition, and a more narrative disturbance. As with the heads and masks, the oblique torsos in Lapka’s works carry myriad implications, from purely artistic, to desperately human. But while the former demand a deeper reflection on the part of the viewer, the latter provoke a more technical reading, brought on partly by the self-explanatory title. Titles, like frames on paintings, become a major player in a work of art, and as such, should be very carefully vetted. At this stage of her prolific career, Lapka offers works that require little in asides

Galerie Bernard, Montréal
May 14—June 20, 2015