Natalka Husar at the Macdonald Stewart

Surrounded by a zoo of screaming kids with paint on their hands and parents chasing after them, I took advantage of Family Day at the Macdonald Stewart Art Gallery to check out an exhibit by Canadian-Ukrainian painter Natalka Husar.

The exhibit is split into "acts" rather than parts or series, and appropriately deals with drama as much as it does painting. In one act Husar paints herself into theatre-like tableaux. A large canvas has her dressed up as a doctor or nurse. She serves up an empty silver platter to a sketchy figure in a black leather jacket seated with a woman in lingerie.

In another act she paints portraits of thugs, with their shaved heads and gold chains, pot bellies, and cigarettes dangling from their mouths. You should revile these men but they are painted with such sensitivity they seem more like tragedy than monsters, like gray-shaded protagonists in a good novel.

Technically, it's clear Husar has been painting for a long time. Her figures are, well, figurative, but they aren't overdone. In places her use of oil has a freshness and rawness to it that reminds me of Pinazo's portraits of children. And her theme... I'm still getting my head around it. I spent some time in Eastern Europe in 1997 and found myself transported back.