Between plastic order and iconic representation
Fernando Cocchiarale | 2011
Cristina Canale showed her work for the first time at the exhibition Como vai você, Geração 80? [How are you, 80s Generation?], inaugurated at Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, in Rio de Janeiro, on July 14, 1984. Her artistic trajectory began within the realm of an emblematic landmark of Brazilian art in recent years, since she had already participated in an exhibition (with 122 artists from several Brazilian regions, many young painters like her) which showed to the nation painting’s reaction against the then-current hegemony of the “dematerialisation of art”.
Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Body Art, and Land Art were decisive to that which was called the “dematerialisation of art”. Despite their differences, these trends emerged as critical counterpoints to formalist theories, which focused on the production of objects intended for aesthetic contemplation.
However, dematerialisation did not mean immateriality but rather experimentation with alternative methods of poetic invention, independent from workmanship and from the production of handmade objects. By prioritizing the idea to the detriment of the work (conceptual); the appropriation of discarded objects instead of conventional technical procedures (povera); and ephemeral performances and interventions instead of the enduring quality of artworks (Body Art and Land Art), these contemporary trends of production were treading paths opposite to those followed by the materiality of painting, sculpture and other media using technical skills.
In the 80s, however, this situation reversed. The restoration of the hegemony of the pictorial field moved to the centre of artistic debate, spearheaded by a new cultural agent — the curator — who gradually took the place of art critique. In this new situation the exhibition and its constant by-products, the catalogues and curatorial texts, became the primary sources of artistic production from this so-called “post-modernity”.
According to Spanish art researcher and theorist Anna Maria Guash: “what can be said in any case is that, for post-modernity, exhibitions represent what the manifestos once did in defining and legitimising historical vanguards, from futurism to surrealism, and what the discourses of historians and, particularly, of critics, represented for the neo-vanguards appearing after World War II.” (1)
Still, this is not the same as supposing that the participation of artists in curatorial events, as with the show at Parque Lage in 1984, was automatically consecratory. Canale’s point of departure (the same as others who also took part in the exhibition) only became relevant in retrospect, from the point of view of the current inclusion and acceptance of her work in Brazilian visual culture.
After almost three decades, today it is possible to distinguish the participants who followed the paths of painting — one of few activities still integrated to artistic production, in which dedication to “manual labour” is necessary and indispensable — from those using other media who for several reasons abandoned the career their participation at that point seemed to announce.
The place and importance of Canale’s work in the plural universe of Brazilian contemporary art should therefore be perceived by examining the Brazilian and international artistic contexts in which her work flourished, and through mapping the significant transformations occurring in her work process during these twenty-seven years, starting with her first exhibition in 1984.
On reasons for the revival of painting
One of the main features of contemporary practice, since its earliest manifestations in the fifties, has been an expansion of artistic production with unconventional media, supports and materials. In this context (indeed foreshadowed by Marcel Duchamp, Dadaism and Surrealism) manual labour has expanded to procedures such as the appropriation of objects and materials taken from everyday life, the utilization of technologies such as photography, super 8, and video, and the assimilation of urban, institutional, and bodily spaces, to the concept as being available media to artists’ practices.
The first twenty years during the implementation and consolidation of contemporary art — whose international landmarks can be located both in the experiments of the Japanese group Gutai, English and North-American Pop Art, and in the international group Fluxus — seemed to have relegated the conventional and manual artistic media (above all painting) to a secondary role.
The theoretical reasons for this revolution were solid and intellectually consistent. They originated not only in Marcel Duchamp’s (1887- 1968) critique of retinal art, but in the very dynamics of industrial societies revoking craftsmanship in the name of serial production of utility goods. The new productive order, throughout the nineteenth century, also led to inventions of new optical-chemical-mechanical technologies such as photography, cinema, etc. which required a minimum of manual dexterity as noted by, for instance, Walter Benjamin (2).
The return of painting during a moment in which its almost two decade long hibernation seemed, for some, impossible, and resulted from the convergence of independent factors intercrossing the global art scene since the late 70s.
The curatorial text for the exhibition reviving the tradition (3) identified as its main adversary the expansion of an intellectual, de-materialized art (if confronted with the materiality of painting and sculpture), established since the beginning of minimalism and conceptual art. At this time the term conceptual had already overflowed the limited scope to which it had been proposed, coming to designate all works whose creation required the use of technology, appropriated materials or objects from everyday life, or works in which the idea seemed as important or more so than its formal presentation.
The struggle for the return of lost hegemonies is usually disqualified, reactively and Manicheanly, by those who have usurped it. This seems to have been the case of a great part of the argumentation produced to justify the revival of painting. To return, therefore, meant not only a personal choice, but a giving back to art (and to the market) something that the experimenters had intended to overcome: recognizably artistic supports and media (painting, etc.), manual artistic labour and expression, in crisis since the twilight of abstraction.
Faced with the radical poetics of art’s dematerialisation, the fragile theoretical defence of this return to manual labour sounded conservative and difficult to defend. Therefore, it was not on the theoretical front that the hegemonic triumph of painting’s revival took place.
However, when the weaknesses of these arguments favouring painting are ignored, it is evident the productions they legitimise were by contrast very successful. The new pictorial expression resulted in works of undeniable interest and importance both for Brazilian art (Cristina Canale, Beatriz Milhazes, Carlito Carvalhosa Daniel Senise, En.as Valle, F.bio Miguez Hilton Berredo, Jorge Duarte, Leda Catunda, Luiz Pizarro, Luiz Zerbini, Nuno Ramos, Paulo Monteiro, Rodrigo Andrade and, later, Adriana Varej.o, Augusto Herkenhoff, among many others), and art from abroad (Anselm Kiefer, A.R.Penk, David Salle, Enzo Cucchi, Francesco Clemente, Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, J.rg Immendorf, Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Markus Lupertz, Sandro Chia, for example).
The examination of ideas produced in the eighties around the revival of painting has, as privileged primary sources, exhibitions and curatorial texts (Anna Maria Guash). From this perspective, Canale’s show Como Vai Você, Geração 80? corresponded functionally and symbolically with its international counterparts, inaugurating a new way to legitimize and launch new artistic trajectories. Organizing the historical Brazilian exhibition were Marcus de Lontra Costa, director of the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, curating together with Paulo Roberto Leal and Sandra Mager.
In the text A Bela Enfurecida [Raging Beauty], published in the Revista Módulo Especial, official catalogue of the exhibition Como Vai Você Geração 80?, the curators criticize the paths taken by art from previous decades: “After all, this is a new generation, new minds. And if today nobody feeds the pedantry of ‘making history,’ of being a big shot, what everyone expects is to be able to do something, without conceptual dread. It is ultimately all about taking away art, the maiden, from its castle, covering its lips with very red lipstick and rolling with her in the grass and on the street, in precious moments in which work and pleasure always walk together.” (4)
The title is almost a call to war. Asleep during the conceptual nightmare, painting would have finally awoken, raging, to regain her place in the Olympus of art.
In the confrontation proposed above, there is no argument similar to those used in the controversies waged in the beginning of the last century between the historical European vanguards, then restricted to the realm of plastic-formal languages. The argument that permeated A Bela Enfurecida, by contrast, explores the political-passionate power inherent in polarizations, such as: “conceptual fears” x pleasure of painting; theory x practice, projects x expression; mind x body and form x matter.
The argument in defence of the revival of painting reinstated, therefore, the dualism between the mind (intellect) and the body (the place of pleasure by excellence) which some Brazilian artists from the beginning of contemporaneity had tried to overcome (the remaining Neoconcretist artists, notably H.lio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape; etc.) aiming at a re-approximation between art and life.
There is, finally, an evident affinity between the arguments justifying the Brazilian show and those which legitimized the international exhibitions aiming, in the same period, to defend painting. To the intellectual tone of minimalist and conceptual tendencies, these arguments opposed the return to making (painting) as a means to recover the artist’s and the public’s subjectivity through sensual pleasure.
In an interview with me about her work, Cristina Canale affirms that her process, although intuitive, does not dispense with a self-critical and reflective attitude, essential to prevent it from to becoming a hostage to hedonism.
“I have never really felt pure pleasure in painting. Even in the most fluid moments my process has always been guided by making-andcriticizing- and-going-ahead, always going back and forth, it is empirical and critical, I loosen myself to see what can happen and to have something to analyse; I believe in intuition more than in reason, I do not decide easily and each decision is painful; the intuition that I cherish so much does not always appear. (5)
The predominantly ideological character of the curatorial texts of the exhibitions celebrating painting’s return should not be evaluated and contested, then, from a purely academic viewpoint. The issues moving the curator’s discourses responded primarily to political demands then so common to the art systems of many countries.
In the specific situation of Brazil, to these demands was superimposed optimistic and pleasant mass mobilization around campaigns for direct elections that had spread throughout Brazilian society and its young people, precipitating the end of military dictatorship. Those are questions that thus only make sense if pursued on a path contrary to that of the theoretical-methodological demands permeating the art of the 70s.
Another factor contributing to the loosening of critical texts on exhibitions refers to the authorial content curatorial practices gained from the exposure represented by the exhibition Quando as atitudes se tornam Forma [When the Attitudes Become Form], held under the curatorship of the Swiss critic Harald Szeemann, at the Kunsthalle of Bern, in 1969, to celebrate the dematerialisation of art. The authorial sense conquered by Szeemann served, in this case paradoxically, an opposite cause: it was used, in the 80s, as one of the main instruments for the return to the materiality of artwork.
By neglecting the research and the interpretation of collected information in the name of more intuitive hypotheses — whose connections are often established by means of poetic license — these curators got closer to processes of invention/creation, getting away from the academic procedures art critics had previously pursued.
The ideology of the new painting
In the passage from the seventies to the eighties, a considerable portion of the arguments — ideological, practical and market — driving the international art scene converged on the reconciliation with painting.
For Achille Bonito Oliva, the curator who launched the Italian Transvanguardia, “The dematerialisation of the work and the executor’s impersonality, which characterizes the art of the sixties according to a rigorously Duchampian development, were overcome by the reestablishment of the manual, in the pleasure of execution, which reintroduces the tradition of painting in the arts.” (6)
In a similarly critical tone, the curator Christos Joachimides wrote in the introductory text of the exhibition New Spirit in Painting (London, 1981) “The discovery of photography, tells the legend, gave the coup de grâce on figurative painting, the moral of the story being, as art historians were quick to point out, that art had followed a linear and progressive evolution since C.zanne, going through cubism and Mondrian, until, let’s say, Ad Reinhardt or minimalism. Such gross error seriously impacted the comprehension of painting during most part of the seventies. The excessive emphasis on the idea of autonomy postulated by minimalism and its last appendix, conceptual art, was doomed to failure. Soon the seventies vanguard, with its narrow and puritan gazes, alien to any pleasure of the senses, loses momentum and begins to stagnate.” (7)
The resurgence of painting in the 80s was legitimized by some general notions, ending up becoming an ideology of the new pictorial field. They were not restricted, however, to the polarizations previously mentioned (idea x pleasure of painting; project x expression; mind x body and form x matter). For a considerable number of critics, curators, artists and collectors then engaged in the return to this ancestral artistic environment, the expressive making and the impasto of the paint (called Matiérisme, often Informel at that time) (8) prevailing in German Neo-Expressionism, became, then, an indicator of good painting.
In this sense, the return of the pictorial in the 80s subverted the poetic autonomy that a painterly making had in abstractionism. Previously considered an autonomous value, impasto was now at the service of the creation of icons. On the other hand the sensuality of the Matiérisme and its results (made of paint), were naturally opposed to the intellectual and dematerialised content of minimal art and its conceptual developments.
If the gestures invested in the pictorial making were decisive to the Matiérial body of work, the latter was intended to arouse visual sensations in the viewer’s eye (body). As a logical consequence of the appreciation of physicality and sensibility over intelligible questions, the defence of the return of painting, by extension, privileged expression as a guide of creation.
The commitment of the new art with the personal experience of each artist raised, then, questions not only of narrative and figuration, but also expressive craftsmanship. Therefore the painting emerging in the eighties was averse to the formal rigours of classical modernism.
Driven by predominantly thematic ideas and by diffuse plastic issues, the production of the painters of the 80s did not result in the creation of a visual proposal based on a formal vocabulary and on a common language. It cannot thus be thought of in the same way we thought of the historical vanguards.
The defence of technical media (or workmanship), like painting, by the 80s generation was not enough to configure an Ism, a suffix that between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, in the modernist jargon, came to designate the artistic movements that appeared around the plastic-formal issues common to some artists. The plural results of the return of painting in the 80s of the last century reveal the difference between the issues informing contemporary production versus formalism, hegemonic during the first six decades of the last century.
Still, the election of technical production procedures is always crucial for artists and for those who think about the meaning of a certain moment of artistic production. Therefore, there is nothing strange in the appreciation of personal expression and of the impasto that predominated the new painting of the 80s. This appreciation, however, has established a restrictive comprehension of painting: the reduction of the pictorial to the painterly (impasto).
These ideas had a significant penetration in the educational repertoire of some artists-teachers responsible for the education of new painters at the best art schools of Brazil in the 80s. Among them stand out the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, one of the most representative, well-known and respected institutions of the return of painting in the country. Consequently these ideas informed the projects and passions of a great many artists of that generation.
Cristina canale and the 80s generation
Upon entering the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, the 18-year-old Cristina Canale could not guess that she would become one of the most important painters in Brazil. At the time she also studied classical and modern dance. Moreover, without any enthusiasm, she studied economics at PUC in Rio de Janeiro. But Parque Lage was not a dilettante life experience in Canale’s education. She was determined to experiment with several forms of visual expression, from drawing to painting and even cinema, an idea she did not bring further, since the technical processes of painting, by relying solely on the control, work and effort of the artist, definitively captivated her.
Christina’s first teachers were Charles Watson, John Nicholson and Luiz Ernesto, artists who were responsible for the education of many young people who sought the Escola de Artes Visuais to learn painting. After this basic period, Canale studied collage with Nelly Gutmacher. Finally, for about two-and-a-half years she studied with John Nicholson, a period in which she completed her training.
However, we must also consider that the education of an artist does not happen only within the limits of the formal relation of teaching/ learning. The affective interaction between generational peers ends up creating a channel for dialogue, for the exchange of experiences and ideas about work processes, being as decisive for education as the classrooms and studios at art schools.
Some of Cristina’s classmates at EAV not only became artists, but also her friends and interlocutors. Among the closest were Beatriz Milhazes, Chico Cunha, Daniel Senise, Luiz Pizarro and John Nicholson, who was a teacher of them all. Later, Canale also became good friends with Salvio Dar., a painter from Santa Catarina, then living in Rio de Janeiro, who died prematurely in 1996. Cristina recalls that: “We talked more about the process and specific issues to certain works. For example, Daniel passed by my studio and commented that a painting I thought still needed a lot of paint was complete. The conversations revolved around concrete difficulties of the process or attitudes. They were more practical than theoretical.” (9)
But it was only around 1983 and 1984, after completing her degree in economics and her training at Parque Lage, that Cristina seriously entertained the possibility of becoming an artist.
Her early works were on paper. Both at the Parque Lage exhibition and in her first solo show, at gallery Contempor.nea in Rio de Janeiro, Canale exhibited drawings. But even though executed with materials such as gouache, pastel, etc., appropriate for paper, those works were closer to painting, in anticipation of the dive into the pictorial she would undertake from 1985 onwards. Cristina Canale explains to us how this first change in her creative process happened: “Since 1985, I stopped using paper and started to use canvas, after a brief attempt with acrylic paint, I focused on oil on canvas. The less figurative themes suppressed the human figure for some time. I used architectural shapes of the city, the Lapa arches, the cathedral, bridges, etc. as initial images and then I sought their archetypal shapes, until I reached the crosses and circles, which, during a short period, I used to build landscapes (a bit stiff, they resembled more cemeteries or remains of a war). This geometricism lasted for about a year or so. It was gradually softened and then I got to more liquid landscapes: the crosses became islands, for example, and the circles, sea waves. It was a world with a lot of water, sea, rivers, lakes, surrounded by mountains and islands, a lot of National Geographic Magazine, backgrounds like the ones from Renaissance paintings and Rio de Janeiro, of course. When I got to the landscape, I breathed more freely, I could loosen colour and matter.” (10)
The Matiérial treatment of Cristina’s early work showed evidence of her commitment to the ideals of Geração 80 absorbed at Escola de Artes Visuais. In those canvases Canale, however, became aware of the inadequacy between painterly manufacture and its iconic results (crosses, mandalas, etc.). The materiality of the impasto could not impose itself as a way to consistently paint the archetypal signs at that time interesting her.
This disjunction did not satisfy her. Her will to overcome it was bigger than the will for searching within the radicalisation of the divorce between image and matter. It was the necessary strength to drive the development of a consistent poetics.
Neither the Matérial self-referentiality, nor the iconic representation, therefore, should in Canale’s opinion stand out individually. The solution she found was in integrating matter and image in the body of the painting. She managed to interweave them on the canvas in such a way that both ended up becoming the same thing.
In 1987, Cristina showed her works in two exhibitions at Galeria do Centro Empresarial Rio – the group exhibition Novos Novos and one solo. During preparation for her solo show the first landscapes started to appear.
Although she shared her interest in Matiérisme with a significant part of new painters, Cristina Canale preferred instead to seek, in art history, references to renew her work – references that for her were like fertilizers. By focusing on landscapes, she not only narrowed her field of action, but also started to have a dialogue with a vast theoretical, technical, and iconic heritage, produced over the centuries, from which she got answers to many of her questions.
According to Canale, the landscapes of this period were produced with the “use of fluid paint, solvent, lots of matter, more than that which I used to call phenomenology of the paint – I threw the paint on the canvas and let it go, then I defined what interested me. As fertilizers, these changes, landscape backgrounds from Renaissance paintings, Japanese art (vertical perspective), Monet (white lilies), versus pictorial painting à la Impressionism and Pollock and Guignard. I liked the pictorial treatment that Gerhard Richter gave to his abstract pictures and the composition of Japanese art from the Edo period (screens, Ogata Korin). I had a lot of fertilizers at that moment...” (11)
Japanese art and, later, Jackson Pollock, had a spatial conception and a pattern of occupation of the pictorial plane that was an alternative to the classical model of landscape. From the oriental tradition, such as Guignard had previously done, Cristina assimilated the representation of depth through the overlapping of landscape elements in layers rather than through the Western perspective which relies on the line of the horizon. On the other hand, the success of the classical painting’s naturalist illusion required thin, uniform brushstrokes, since impasto emphasized the plane of the painting where it overlaps, obstructing depth perception.
Pollock’s all over painting combined with a diffuse influence from Monet’s water lilies, allowed Canale to circumvent some of the dilemmas posed by her early work. Henceforth she could mobilize the whole surface of the painting, not only by means of matter, but also by the distribution of images throughout the pictorial surface.
In Cristina Canale’s landscapes produced between 1987 and 1990 the painterly treatment is no longer at the service of the solidity of the painted scene as one would hope. On the contrary, it melts by means of dripping paint whose function is to evoke the imprecision inherent to the outlines of the sea, rivers and waterfalls, and to the luminosity of islands, archipelagos, valleys and volcanos. In these paintings, pigmented matter is also transformed, by analogy, into representation of luminous matter and the shadows that shape the motifs.
The fact that she was born and lived, until she was thirty-two, in Rio de Janeiro, a city-landscape, influenced her. But it is important to note that the influence from the exuberance of Rio has never been iconic. Her paintings very rarely represented the city. However, they absorbed the curves (the bay, beaches and lakes), the relief (hills and huge rocks) and above all the spatiality (a system in which those traces or shapes are organized).
In 1991 her practice became what Cristina calls muro de flor [wall of flowers]. The canvas was frequently covered from top to bottom (all over) by dozens of flowers barring the horizon and limiting the sense of depth. But in 1993, this all-over muro de flor had become a blind alley for the artist. A lot of matter with little variation in the treatment made her feel prisoner of materiality.
The impact of the german experience
In 1993 Cristina Canale moved to Berlin. From that year until 1996 she studied at the Art Academy of Düsseldorf, thanks to a scholarship granted by the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst / German Academic Exchange Service). Those years were decisive for the radical transformation in Cristina’s production. There, she restarted working on paper and was able to produce small format works, leaving the pictorial treatment of the image, finally discovering the power of the line as an alternative to matter in the creation of spaces: a spatiality opposed to the all over that predominated in her last series of paintings made in Brazil.
Of the impact caused by the studies in Germany, Cristina commented: I was oriented by Jan Dibbets, who, despite being a conceptual artist, had an excellent eye for painting and a special sensibility influenced by Dutch contemporary painting (specially Renee Daniels). He strengthened in me the idea that intuition is the key component in the process, and this surprised me. When I went to Germany I was willing to “clean up” my work, all that paint, the obligation of matter, it was holding me back, the work did not go further. In Germany, I started the process with small watercolours en plein air and they were the cornerstones of a new orientation for the work. I think I would have come to something similar had I stayed in Brazil, but it would have been more complicated. Rolf Behm (12) also helped me in this passage, he came from a more expressive form of painting and was a student of Lüpertz at the academy; he knew how to move within the world of European painting. (13)
If earlier the elements of the landscape were shaped by means of pictorial impasto, the impact of her studies in Düsseldorf made the definition of these elements happen by the superposition of transparencies and the combination of lines and mark making. Cristina concentrated, then, in drawing by observation in public parks, botanical and zoo gardens, then transposing them to bigger formats on paper, and to painting on canvas.
Instead of the voluminous (14) paintings of the eighties, the first drawings and paintings Canale produced in Germany were organized by means of almost flat details of plant motifs suggesting fruits, berries and flowers (the zoom botânico of Cristina). They show fragments of landscapes created through chromatic superpositions, transparency or opacity, illuminating the spaces of the canvases without the explicit representation of light and shadow seen in the paintings from the previous phase.
It was a cleansing process. Canale reviewed her canons through diluting pictorial matter, the approximation with the object, the predominance of form over matter, and breaking with the expressive tension that characterized her work. European art of the 30s, 40s and 50s along with the production of Jean Arp and Henry Matisse marked (or fertilized) this stage of Cristina’s work.
In Germany, she overcame the pictorial precepts that had situated her in the context of Gera..o 80 marks a key inflexion in Canale’s work. Since then, the transformations of her work have been sought only in the internal maturation of her creative process, and no longer in external influences like those generational ones from her early productions.
On one hand, the impact of the German experience made Canale exchange for a brief moment the canvas for the paper (only to return to it, later, on other grounds); on the other, being far from Brazil seems to have been responsible for her reconciliation with Brazilian colours, luminosity and motifs, after initial identifications with the wilder and more aggressive style of Neo-Expressionist paintings.
The Brazilian influence manifesting itself in Cristina’s work is not restricted, however, to the direct absorption of her country’s urban-landscape environment. Canale also apprehended some achievements made by artists who, like her, contributed to the construction of a local imagery. The icons of Goeldi and Guignard and the colours of Volpi particularly interested her at that time.
Developments and modifications of
cristina canale’s work since 1996
After the intensity and anxiety of the first three years of working in Germany, the botanical zoom of the drawings made through observation and of the resultant paintings began to run out. This depletion, however, was not thematic but procedural.
Early on, Cristina understood her creative process was not consummated in the invention of shapes (motifs) and images. But she also realized visual references extracted from the real world or from other iconic fields could give good pretexts for the march of her process, contributing to organizing the pictorial space and its structure, without being deprived of emotional involvement with her subjects.
When the zoom botânico series, a landmark of the cleansing process in Cristina’s painting from the beginning of her German experience in 1993 to 1995, failed to respond to her pictorial questions, she sought new motifs or shapes to paint. This time, instead of processing them by means of drawing plant details directly observed at parks and gardens, she found these new motifs in the shapes of plants and flowers already processed by Art Nouveau, and in the decorative geometricism of Art Déco (1996-1998).
By contrasting the sinuosity of organic elements with the constructed shapes of ornaments, Canale began elaborating a pictorial system, still in formation today, where the intuitive dynamics which permeate her work are confronted with more abstract and planar possibilities of organizing the pictorial space.
For Cristina, the relation between the construction of this system and the inflections determined by the periodic change of motifs has been processed over the past two decades.
“Until my stay in Germany I used to avoid the formal affirmation of lines. Over time the painted image gradually became more important and more sophisticated, being more specific, gaining more particular outlines. Currently I assume the figure (or shape) as a key component. I come to a certain universe (children in the landscape, vacations, tourists photographing, pets and their habitats, empty armchairs, etc.) and to themes I can relate to and which might be pictorially rich. From there I develop a series of works around that motif, until I feel it is drained to the last drop.
Sometimes a motif returns later inside another (the armchair from 1998 with a poodle from 2008, for example, or the flowers from the 90s in the patterns of a middle-aged woman’s dress from 2010-11). I collect them in two combined ways photos taken without great pretensions, family albums. More recently I started to include motifs from magazines, images that I am not intimate with. I stopped to feel the need for images of very dear people... otherwise, sketches, little drawings, and more elaborate drawings. I created two threads for myself: one that talks about the relation between figuration and abstraction, free material versus conducted material and another that strains the narrative and the non-narrative. A minimum dose of context to the maximum contextualization possible. If I have not yet reached that, I intend to”... (15)
For some time the threads mentioned above have been guiding Canale’s work. However, the general and invisible nature of these threads, even though they can signal her intentions (and this is essential for a consistent poetics), they could not make them sensible. It is also necessary to see how these intentions are realized in practice, both in that which refers to their spatial order and in the brushstrokes, as opposed to the impasto used until 1993. The more liquefied use of paint made possible the superposition of translucent planes. Those are relevant considerations that do not, however, complement the meaning of their processes, because they are short of the poetic dynamo that sets it in motion: the search for new pictorial possibilities of landscapes by means of a synthesis of the two threads mentioned by
By reviewing the main uninflected moments of her work process we can observe alternating periods in which sometimes a more planar pictorial-spatial treatment prevails, and sometimes an ever-changing return to the landscape (implying a sort of spatial organization of the canvas punctuated by references to three-dimensionality).
This has been ongoing since around 1987, when Canale came to the landscape in order to overcome the deadlock between the material treatment of the painting and the archetypal symbols stemming from it. To preserve the impasto, she changed the symbolic realm (crosses, mandalas, etc.) for the solidity and liquidity of the natural world.
Her arrival in Germany gave her elements to overcome the Matiérisme, then already exhausted as an inventive medium for the artist. If the zoom botânico (1993-1995) left that generational barrier behind, the formas Botânicas and ornamentais (1996-1999) already foreshadowed the two threads that began motivating her painting.
After six years with alternatives to the repertoires used in her Brazilian early years (1984-1993), Cristina started, from 1999 on, building the space of her paintings, according to an order based on a minimum of three-dimensionality. First isolated and centralized in the picture without spatial depth, her armchairs began to be integrated in “more spatialized” spaces, such as living rooms, balconies and terraces. The “Interiores” appear, and with them the search for formal concision, which can be seen in the planes of uniform colour and in the use of sharp diagonals.
From 2001 to 2003, Canale returned to landscapes. Their structures this time took advantage of architectural forms inspired by the external appearance of the houses of some of her friends (cabins, walls, etc.). The armchairs from the previous phase were replaced by houses or broken up in walls contrasting with the scenario (the surrounding landscape) to which they belong. They are, therefore, geometrical interferences, in a gestural and more fluid background (vegetation, lake, swimming pools).
After three years since her last return to the landscape these works still seemed incomplete to her. She missed characters to inhabit them. The human figure begins to appear in her paintings from 2003 on, impregnating them with a quiet warmth evoked by everyday life, emanating from her painting without noise, from the thin bowels of the canvases to their surfaces, in a pictorial pulsation opposite to the impasto.
A little later, around 2006, Canale introduced new motifs of great pictorial interest such as paws, patterns from the fur of domestic animals and other colours (dogs of many different breeds and kinds, stray cats, pedigree cats, race horses, etc.) which reconnected her also with the interior environments in which these new protagonists usually circulate in everyday life. Closer planes, another repertoire of shapes: tiles, slabs, began to guide the spatial organization of the works.
By including people and animals in the paintings, she opposes the spatial continuity of the architecture and of the environmental scene to the dynamic tempo of the life they welcome. This is not about movement, literally nonexistent in the different elements coexisting in the same lapse of the pictorial scene, but about the suggestion of opposed temporal dynamics like those captured by photography. The landscapes and environments recently processed by Cristina Canale through painting demonstrate how the correlation of the two threads – figuration x abstraction and narrative x non-narrative – keeps on guiding her creative process.
1. GUASH, Anna Maria. Los Manifiestos del Arte Posmoderno / Textos de exposiciones 1980-1995, Madrid, Akal Editorial, 2000. P. 5
2. Benjamin,Walter. A obra de arte na era de sua reprodutibilidade t.cnica. In Magia e T.cnica, arte pol.tica / ensaios sobre literatura e hist.ria da cultura, obras escolhidas, S.o Paulo, Editora Brasiliense, 1987.
3. Among these texts we mention: “Bad” Painting by Marcia Tucker, exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1978; A New Spirit in Painting, by Christos Joachimides, held at the Royal Academy of Art in London, 1981; Vanguardia/Transvanguardia by Achille Bonito Oliva, in the Aurelian Walls from Porta Metronia to Porta Latina, Rome, 1982 and A Bela Enfurecida, by Paulo Roberto Leal, Sandra Mager and Marcus de Lontra Costa for the show Como vai você, Geração 80?, inaugurated in July 1984, at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, in Rio de Janeiro.
4. Revista M.dulo Especial, official catalogue of the exhibition Como Vai Você, Geração 80?, Rio de Janeiro, 1984.
5. Interview with Cristina Canale as an aid to the present text.
6. Vanguarda / Transvanguarda, held in Rome, April-June 1982 and soon in Milan (in Los Manifestos del Arte Posmoderno).
7. A New Spirit in Painting (in Los Manifiestos del Arte Posmoderno).
8. The concept of Matiérique was created to designate the production of some informal European painters, emerged in the postwar period, who applied on their canvases materials extracted from the world, like sand, plaster, rags, scrap, etc... In this initial meaning artists like Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), Jean Fautrier (1898-1964), Alberto Burri (1915-1995) would be matiériques, as well as some German neo-expressionists, like Anselm Kiefer, among others. For those artists matter would be endowed with a self-referential meaning, restricted to visualplastic properties.
9. Interview with Cristina Canale as an aid to the present text.
12. In the sense employed by Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. O olho o espírito. Ed. Abril, S.o Paulo, 1984. Cole..o Os Pensadores.
13. German painter married with Cristina Canale since 1998.
14. Interview with Cristina Canale as an aid to the present text.