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Critical Essays

The paths of painting and the yellow fish

Luiz Camillo Osorio | 2010



Cristina Canale’s painting emerged in the 1980s at Parque Lage. However, it was only after she traveled to Berlin, in the mid 1990s, that the artist asserted her own personality and singular style — one whose contemporary vocation holds close ties with modern tradition. Rather than ejecting the artist outside of her time, swerving toward an anachronistic and empty formalism, this connection represents her commitment with the multiple temporalities that co-exist and confront one another in the present.


Canale’s brushstroke renders the modern belief into powerful form. As we stand before her canvases, a figuration comes forth that seems to exist by and in itself, unencumbered by the pictorial conventions that structure the genesis of things. Furthermore, a plastic intensity summons the gaze without a previously implied meaning. This summons sets the viewer’s eye to work in the difficult conversion from mere sensation to suggested meaning.


There is an air of familiarity in the simple and predominantly domestic themes of the artist’s commonplace scenes. However, these scenes are marked by a unique color intensity and the sensuality of the brushstroke. In his book on Francis Bacon, Deleuze offers an observation about color that comes in handy: “’Colorism’ means not only that relations are established between colors (as in every panting worthy of this name), but that color itself is discovered to be the variable relation, on which everything else depends. (…) If the color is perfect, if the relations of color are developed for their own sake, then you have everything: form and ground, bright and dark”.1 In these paintings by Canale, we verify that the relations of color articulate figures in space by drawing bodies together, dilating or compressing forms, and in this way creating force fields that mobilize the viewer’s perception. A saying by Paul Klee seems to resound here: “Color and I are one”. Her work with paints and their multiple hue, light, vibration, and texture possibilities rendered on the canvas surface instigates a complicity of the eye with the chromatic experience, and therefrom with the painted scene. This eye is at once sensation and production; it is moved and informed by its play with colors and forms.


Figures materialize in Cristina Canale’s paintings as if springing from the canvas. So great is the empathy between figures and ground, and between line and color, that they seem to have come from within the support, like small cells that suddenly germinate and develope on the picture surface. It is as if the figure emerged gradually to enhance fields/masses of color subjected to tension. More, even, than an exercise at linework precision, this is an exercise of constraint and expansion of chromatic energy. The hypotheses that at first only one figurative element is suggested, and that during the painting process the artist defines, through the construction of color fields, the elements that will remain on the canvas, do not sound absurd to me.


The attendance of the figure is an important point for the discussion of its connection with the modern tradition. I say this, keeping in mind that abstraction was viewed, after a simplifying modernist reading, as a rejection of the figure. However, this does not hold completely true for modern painting. There is an entire Expressionist source that includes Giacometti and Francis Bacon, which validates the figure and, concomitantly, the freedom of the pictorial event. Line, color and plane, the elements that constitute “abstract reasoning” are at the origin of the entire figuration process. Instead of abstraction being featured as an overcoming of the figure, the figure would be presented as a development from abstraction. Figuration only attains pictorial quality once an affectation on the canvas surface takes place that results from the “abstract” elements of painting.


Canale’s recent paintings reveal the line’s constructive effort through the geometric articulation of space. The most evident attendance of the figure next to the habitual chromatic energy could possibly saturate the pictorial surface, if it were not for the constraint resulting from a more graphic structuring of the space. In respect to these current paintings, the artist states that she feels “more alert to the painting structure, as if to refute figuration. I have tried to secure more precision for the structure, closer planes, more clearly outlined color fields, etc. I think that in these works with animals there is more humor too.”2 This greater structural clarity of the line is more evident in Canale’s paintings than in her drawings. In those areas where color appears more diluted and voids allow color masses to breathe, the line can be looser and more unrestrained.


At the same time that these works by Cristina Canale reveal an obstinate attention to the means of painting itself — a modern facet —, they produce, on the canvas surface, a repertoire of sensations that enhance the viewer’s outlook on the world. Unlike the figurative tradition, in her pictures there is no pre-established scene; rather, something comes forth that develops from the play of forces between chromatic powers and graphic powers. Canale renders a non-representational and non-narrative figuration built from pictorial sensations, in the name of a freedom for the viewpoints of any flattened visibility models.


Above all, Canale’s painting is more a blotch than a line, it subjects the figure to color palpitations and does not allow the contour to gain stability. Given its vibration, things remain unsettled and keep on contaminating one another, generating a constant metamorphosis. In a shot story titled “Teoria das Cores” [Theory of Colors], Portuguese poet Herberto Helder tells about a painter and a red fish. As soon as he arrived at the desired hue for the fish, a black knot would appear behind the red coloring. “Pondering the reasons for the change precisely when he was asserting his fidelity, the painter wondered whether the fish was showing him, with a magic trick, that there is only one law ruling the realm of things and the realm of imagination: the law of metamorphosis. Understanding this fidelity mode, the artist painted a yellow fish.”3 This freedom, which doubles as the artist’s fidelity to the poetic adage of making something visible without holding on to the previously seen, conveys an original freshness to Cristina Canale’s painting. At the same time, it conveys a necessary actuality to painting, so as to multiply the modes and the time of the viewer’s perception of things.


*  This essay is an expanded and revised version of a text originally published in a catalog by Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo, July-August 2008.

[1] Gilles Deleuze. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Daniel W. Smith (trans.). New York: Continuum, 2003, p. 139.

[2] Remarks taken from Canale’s e-mails to the author in April 2008.

[3] Herberto Helder. Os Passos em Volta, Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 1994, p. 23 and 24, Izabel M. Burbridge (trans.). I thank Mada-lena Vaz Pinto for introducing me to the work of this Portuguese poet.

OSORIO, Luiz Camillo. Exhibition catalog. Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, July-August 2010.

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