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Critical Essays

Keep telling

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti | 2011



The wedding takes place in the countryside, the groom hasn’t arrived yet. The bride is static, arms crossed, faraway look in her eyes, while the wind lifts her bridal veil and dress, just enough to show her firm ankles and black shoes. Beside her, another woman keeps her company. She is wearing what seems to be a floral dress, shorter than the bride’s and less lenient with the caprices of the wind: it almost doesn’t move, it only lifts slightly and falls back down. The stiffness of the dress suggests a thick, coarse and unsophisticatedly finished fabric. It is a party gown, which has been used for many parties, one of the few gowns in the bride’s sister’s closet (she must be her sister: she has the same dark hair, strong and steady ankles, and the same skin color). Near them, but far enough to make clear she’s not part of the group, the bride’s sister’s pre-adolescent daughter (in this case, their horns suggest a relationship) observes them; or she might be just looking at their direction but is actually far beyond them. It might also be possible that, despite all this, they are not sisters, just neighbors . They live nearby, behind the beige wall, in geminated houses. They came here to understand what was going on: the girl, who has calmed down and now stares at the ground, had cried, and could not explain herself; they both left the house in a hurry, forgot to put their coats on and are trying to protect themselves from the cold air by crossing their arms, but it is not working and they continue to not understand. Every now and then, the girl mumbles something almost unintelligible, fragments of a story or a dream: a Mexican woman holding a red flower in her hand (a gerbera, did she say gerbera?); the hand of a boy who, appeared suddenly and caught an orange balloon. Maybe, the balloon belonged to the girl and that was the reason why she was crying. Or maybe it was just fear, fear of these voices she can’t help and can’t stop listening…


Cristina Canale’s recent paintings, and by recent I mean the ones created during the last decade, are full of stories that have no end; they create atmospheres, give the premisses, introduce the characters and stop. The recurring presence of color stains may represent recognizable elements or remain amorphous; and a surreal touch, well-exemplified by the horns in the heads of the bride’s sister and her daughter, takes us to a dreamlike and fantastic universe. Stories told by these paintings are not necessarily committed with the reality we are familiar with; they could melt at any time, dissolving into something unrecognizable. This latent dissolution is the threat that hovers, as a death foretold, over all characters of Cristina Canale’s stories. The critic has been analyzing this struggle between abstraction and figuration, usually from a formal and, more specifically, chromatic point of view, as if everything could be reduced to a pictorial and almost self-referential issue. This interpretation, even though indirectly, places these works in a pictorial-modernist lineage, which understood the work as a self-sufficient space in which colors and shapes only refer to themselves and where there is no desire to reproduce something that is external, and consequently, tends to emphasize and make evident the fundamental characteristics of painting (bi-dimensionality, material of the paint etc.), which in the past were considered to be obstacles to be overcome, through the use of mimetic techniques until they disappeared. And, in fact, Cristina Canale’s works are openly “paintings” in the sense that they don’t intend to be mistaken by open windows through which the viewer observes the same world around him/her, using the famous metaphor by Leon Battista Alberti. In other words, the figuration that is present in her work has no mimetic ambition.


On the other hand, it is necessary to go beyond a formalist interpretation: in Cristina Canale’s paintings there is a deadlock in the narrative. Besides being presented with the same clarity and kept in a state of suspension and lack of definition that is analogue of what characterizes the struggle between abstraction and figuration, this deadlock oscillates between the construction of recognizable, almost conventional, stories in its apparent linearity (a wedding, a trip to the zoo, a violin class, etc.) and the abyss of a dive with no return into the speechlessness of the pure color; amid clear-cut premisses, especially regarding the way scenes and characters are created, and the sudden interruption of stories, which the artists chooses consciously and orderly to not develop beyond these premisses. If this relationship between form and content is evidently coherent, it also creates a critic short-circuit, in the sense that while the pictorial premisses can be considered to be part of the modernist tradition, the fragmented, dreamlike and, ultimately, indecipherable narrative takes us to the field of postmodernity. Although theoretical, the comparison between “modernist” and “postmodernist” elements is able to highlight the complexity of a work that is far from being limited to formal or technical issues. In fact, analyzing the unfinished characteristic of these stories, and how, in spite of it, Cristina Canale’s work continues to tell something, allows us to imagine that her inspiration to create emerges exactly from the desire to tell stories. In other words, we may imagine that the nearly-dissolved shapes, the unfinished element of these paintings, are the resource the artist has found to tell her stories the way it suits her best (or, according to the most passionate theoreticians of postmodernity, the only possible way). If we accept this interpretation, the personal style of these paintings is no longer a caprice — or a merely aesthetic solution — and becomes an almost anthological choice, a statement of poetics. The characters the artist shows us did not emerge from the magma of color only to fill canvasses or to transform an abstractionist inclination into figuration: on the contrary, each represented element has a role to perform, contributing to the balance of the whole. The core of these paintings must not (or not only) be searched for in the struggle between figuration and abstraction, but in the stories told by these paintings and, most importantly, in how they are told.


VISCONTI, Jacopo Crivelli. Solo exhibition catalog. Nara Roesler, São Paulo, 2011

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