Monday April 14th, 2003.
As it has happened many times after the much discussed death of painting, artists are picking up their brushes again and, in doing so, recovering the intimacy of the workshop and returning to nudes, portraits, landscapes; basically, returning to easel painting.
Today, Buenos Aires’ art scene is changing. A decade ended, the golden 90’s are over, and the new century has begun with the emergence of a series of artists who use the painting tradition and canvas format for their productions. There is a return to painting just as new technologies are multiplying in art exhibitions. For these artists, there are no plugs or TV monitors, nor projectors. Just paint, and mostly oil. Unlike the new transavanguard image of the eighties, these artists stay well away from the expressionist dripping. They paint with detailed precision, and allow themselves to recover the figurative image, copying if from photographs or nature.
The landscape, so linked to our national tradition, is the subject of Guadalupe Fernandez’s oil paintings (1971). At Manuel Belgrano School she came contact with her peers and the sphere known as the art world. She met Sebastián Gordín, Máximo Lutz, Cas, Miliyo, and Pagés, who had just started to introduce themselves as members of the group Mariscos en tu Calypso. She learned the trade and the importance of constancy in an artist from Marcia Schvartz. Fernandez strolls around the ecological reserve sketching every plant and leaf in tempera. Afterwards, in her workshop, she transfers those sketches to canvases where the oil’s sensuality can be sensed, and her work acquires the dreamlike atmosphere that defines her artworks.
Aspects such as the lack of perspective, the image’s flatness, and the pictorial space achieved through the overlapping of screens link her to the Argentine school of the beginning of the century, with elements taken from Prilidiano Pueyrredón’s skies or the painters of La Boca from the 1930s in an eclectic way.
In many of these artists, the international scene is no longer used as a reference. Instead, they nourish their repertoire with fascicules of Argentine artists and repeated visits to the national section of the National Museum of Fine Arts. This is the case of Juan Becú (1980), who greatly admires the paintings of Lacámera and Cúnsolo, and admits that his favorite plan is to visit the collection of the Quinquela Martín Museum in La Boca.
Urban landscapes are the subject of Alejandro Bonzo’s (1976) works. Through a flat image made with enamel and oil on wood, buildings with lowered blinds, stillness, and extreme solitude create an iconography of absence painted in bright, strident colors. This results in a mixture between the climate of Lacámera, Hopper, and Hockney’s paintings, together with the inevitable references to his master Pablo Suárez.
RETURNING TO OIL PAINTING
Nahuel Vecino (1977) is still surprised by his recent exhibition in MALBA’s (Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art) contemporary space. He is not yet able to process the speed of a career that began when he started to show his production in the alternative space Belleza y Felicidad (Beauty and Happiness) in 2001. Vecino draws in sanguine using iconography from socialist realism and paints massive, sculptural figures in oil, with “that muddy, humid, brown, from the basin of the River Plate and from his school of painting“, as Gumier Maier writes.
Cynthia Cohen (1969) reflects on the psychological situations linked to the construction of female subjectivity using a single motif: flowers. They are roses painted with rigorous oil and a precise technique, referring to the retinal tradition of modern art, and copying the flowers using photos and a botany book, like those travelers who documented newly discovered landscapes, such as the orchids drawn by Bonpland. A typical painting genre that had been left behind reappears in Lorena Ventimiglia’s (1971) work: the portrait. The artist copies her models from ID photos. With a spatula heavily filled with acrylic paint, she overlaps her monochromes through layers, gradually degrading the color, pink in general, towards the purest white.
In Argentinian artistic formation, apart from art schools, there are workshops run by artists who devote part of their time to teaching. This is the case of Sergio Bazán, who in his large house in the neighborhood of Once set up a stronghold where his followers discuss, reflect, and fight the inertia of daily lethargy by inventing paintings, stories, and projects. Mariana López and Víctor Florido studied in this workshop.
The surgical coldness of Mariana López’s paintings (1981) looks nothing like the candor of her teenage-like gaze. Bailiffs, shells, butterflies, and all kinds of insects crowd her images, drawn with the scientific accuracy you would find in a biology manual. What could be an encyclopedia of horror, is transformed by the artist into an almost pop fantasy, like an advertising brand for a wheelchair with microphones, or a commercial for a motorcycle flooded with the sensuality of a reptile’s skin.
In Victor Florido’s paintings (1976), the artist appropriates images from magazines of the 1950s such as Mecánica Popular (Popular Mechanics), where a whole world of machines and household appliance advertising is fantastically combined with scenes from everyday life. Old photos taken from family albums generate ambiguous situations that, under the apparent innocence of a naïve painting, subtly reveal a world filled with challenges. Florido has just returned from Holland, where he studied at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam with a scholarship. From there, he brought his most recent production, black and white paintings where he investigates the relationship between painting and photography deeply.
This same relationship between the painted image and the photographed image is the core of Pedro Iacomuzzi’s (1975) work.
The artist draws the toilette’s iconographic tradition, used in art history all the way from the biblical scenes of Susanna and the Elders of the Baroque to the bathers of Degas or Renoir. What do women do when they go into the bathroom? Iacomuzzi captures the ladies’ bathroom scenes photographically. Using a color photograph taken with a Pocket camera, he begins the process of building the artwork.
Drawing a grid on a photograph and then bringing it to scale on the canvas using coordinates is a Renaissance mural technique used here to create a contemporary scene instead. When selecting the photographs to be reproduced, the artist picks those in which the frame places the figure at the edge of the field of view. The stooped bodies of these women show that self-contained expression that appears in moments when people are secluded in the most private places and make daily life decisions.
The figures are crudely painted in oil, detailing the creases of the clothes and the textures of the wall with an aesthetic very close to hyperrealism. Iacomuzzi places the viewer in a voyeuristic situation that has the atmosphere of Wim Wenders’ films, as in the glass booths of ‘Paris-Texas’, separated from the client by a glass cloth.
He allows us to enter the behind the scenes of urban nights, spying the poses and the dejected bodies of these women who need more than a glass of absinthe to hide the unfathomable pain of urban loneliness.
BY LAURA BATKIS