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Critical Essays

Cristina Canale: Fluid Images

Tiago Mesquita | 2005


The painting of Cristina Canale is a figuration that resorts to abstractionist elements. Her canvases are covered with broad, nearly contourless color areas. These mutually-contaminated color regions result from her uneven brushstrokes ascribing major tonal changes to a same blotch. At times these regions are diluted, at times they tend to concentrate. This inconsistency lends a fluid, somewhat misty appearance to the works. Colors seem ethereal, nearly intangible. Elements could just as well dissolve into one another, and yet they do not. Soft forms, set side by side, somehow manage to coordinate. Not everything is dispersed. This is precisely where the artist finds her figures, just as one makes out images contained in the clouds, or in the surf lines on a sandy beach.


In these provisory-looking, fluid forms Cristina Canale renders conventional painting themes with figures represented in recognizable stances and regular arrangements. For example, in the picture titled Casal (Couple), the artist began with a green expanse in which at first there was no distinction between land and sky. Little by little, however, flat and rhythmic elements were introduced that punctuated color, defining space. At the center of the canvas, the artist set a somewhat hazy silhouette of a couple, and the painting became a rural scene.


Here the characters are featured in rather conventional poses, like those in box camera photos taken in the park. Yet everything seems fleeting, as if the artist had found a reality that dissolves the moment she turns away. The moment that characters leave the scene, the landscape collapses, it ceases to exist.


In the canvas Casa de Amigo II (A Friend’s House II), flat and large-format shapes built with trickled colors render another traditional painting genre, the seascape. Here, solid juxtaposed blue, black and beige blotches form the beach. The shapes interact and mutually ascribe volume on one another. This time the artist introduces a small boat, also at the center of the canvas, and once again the slightly shapeless, pure elements turn into figures that hark back to a conventional theme. However, this is not rendered in schematic manner, that is to say, by adapting forms to figurative schemes. One of the riches of this painting is in the specificity of its compositional elements, with the peripheral characteristics of diluted forms building the scene. The image of a tree is suggested under the beige area. On the upper part of this canvas section, a triangle is bent and made to set down on a brown band, thus configuring a house.


Canale’s persistent quest for tangible elements in these paintings is rather intriguing, particularly because in her work tangible elements are found in conventional formats that usually constitute the pictorial language. The painter is unyielding when it comes to working with open, contourless forms and no prior sketch – which brings to mind some of the works by Vuillard and even Munch. Yet, she strives to transform her independent and flat shapes into suggested figures. The end result is even more extreme than that, as Canale’s brushstrokes are converted into images.


Over the last few centuries, art has transformed reality into images in diverse manners. We could state, in to-the-point and schematic manner, that the wager in subjective apprehension of image appears as a common assumption in 19th-century French impressionism. Art insists on the particular nature of the viewer’s experience, while the painter produces scenes and landscapes that no other gaze could ever envisage. As a result, this apprehension ascribes the most varied meanings and significations to the world. In this way, image further invigorates and adds variety to the world.


The work of a few painters from the second half of the 20th century such as Gerhardt Richter and Robert Ryman presents a nearly opposed point of view. These artists devoted themselves to the investigation of image-building structures. In Richter, for example, whose works bear similarities to those by Canale, painting is used to render the scheme that underpins certain viewpoints on the world as well as certain ways of building a visual language, rather than the work itself. Like Canale, Richter also deals with conventional genres and artistic media. However, his painting is continually attempting to deconstruct these structures. In some works he adopts, in painting, the approach to building photo images; in others, he paints abstraction as a scheme. To a certain extent, he handles pictorial language as if it were a crystallized structure. The artist reiterates the impossibility of uttering anything within this scheme, just as the image disengages itself completely from the role of ascribing meanings to the world. His work is intangible. This art does not speak to tangible things; rather, it speaks to schemes dissociated from reality and to culturally established structures.


Cristina Canale’s work also speaks to images, which are often formulated in agreement with conventional schemes. However, unlike Richter’s pictures, her paintings present a diluted structure that imbues them with a dimension of narrative. By and large, they are household scenes. Some paintings bear a likeness to photos taken at summer vacations. The scenes are not about anything specific; yet, the artist treats her scenes with plentiful pictorial effects. Images are set in the distance as a consequence of strictly visual operations. The moment we catch sight of them, it seems possible to cast on them the same singular glance that we cast at souvenir photographs. The indistinct house evokes in the viewer a mental picture of a home surrounded by dry, rolled up leaves on the ground, pitch black rooms, the odors of the street and the local temperature. Cristina Canale’s painting looks to image and to traditional painting genres in subjective manner, anticipating a singular experience. Just like, in their time, impressionists looked to the world.


MESQUITA, Thiago. Solo exhibition. Nara Roesler, São Paulo, 2005.

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