Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cristina Battistin and the Modern Portrait

January 2010, oil on canvas, 27x20cm
Painting is dead. So is portraiture. This is what we are told. Artists like Gabriel Orozco have spent years experimenting with media ranging from fruit to laundry lint to whale bones (the motley materials of modern artistic practice?) before moving on to paint in what seems to be a regression. But Orozco's paintings aren't about the paint. They're about formulas and geometric progressions. They're about color the way that Modrian's paintings were about color. They're mathematical functions. They are not about paint.

Artists like Cristina Battistin confuse and delight me. Painting is not dead, and there is a modern, relevant space for portraiture. The genre still holds the possibility of progressive movement. Her work proves this, or at least asks us to consider it. They are, indubitably, a celebration of the materiality of paint, and the materiality of the human form.

At first glance, her portraits seem to resemble those biology textbook diagrams of human musculature, where the skin is stripped away to reveal the tangle of rosy sinew hiding underneath. Her people seem raw and exposed. When you look again, you see that they're really just caught in a gorgeous process; dematerialization, or perhaps its opposite. The glitter you see isn't the shine of naked muscle, but of atoms arranged just so. Color and texture become part of a new, physical, painterly vocabulary that describes human materiality, rejecting the scientific and surrendering to an adoration of the genre that borders on religiousity.

Detail from 15 December 2009; Oil on Canvas, 27x20cm
I'm not talking about the Russian or Byzantine religious icons that, admittedly, Battistin's portraits do resemble. I'm thinking more about an obsessive, truth-seeking spirituality like Robert Smithson's, visualized as spirals and crystallization and mirrors. Something without boundaries, something understood as forever in progress. Transcendentalism without need for an endpoint.

All that aside, the paintings are gorgeous. Check out more of Battistin's work here.

XI, May 2006; Oil on Canvas, 39x31 cm
X, March 2006; Oil on Canvas, 39x31 cm

No comments:

Post a Comment