Angela de la Cruz has been nominated for her solo exhibition After at Camden Arts Centre, London. De la Cruz uses the language of painting and sculpture to create striking works that combine formal tension with a deeper emotional presence.
As painting has developed, every aspect of the medium has been pushed to its limits as artists have explored it. Subject, shape, line, colour – they’ve all been played with in a quest for expression and meaning. But they’ve always been trapped within the wooden frame of the stretcher. De la Cruz has finally broken this boundary, often quite literally. And in doing so she has brought painting from two-dimensional representation to three-dimensional sculpture, which fundamentally changes the role of the paint and the painting.
When someone makes a normal painting, the painting is usually the important part. But in de la Cruz’s work, the painting becomes secondary. She does serious violence to her bright monochrome paintings, so that the shape and the location become the important things. The paintings are crumpled, left sagging, or taken off their stretchers altogether and stacked on the floor.
Initially, these paintings look like they should be rubbish. Clutter I (2003) is a pile of canvasses, stripped from their stretchers and piled on the floor. In another setting it would be a rubbish pile. There’s sort of a nagging feeling that this shouldn’t really be in the gallery, as though someone might finish the tidying they’ve been doing and throw it out. But in the gallery they are changed from prospective-landfill into a new work of art in its own right. I think it’s partly a challenge to what we expect to hang (or lie on the floor) in a gallery. I think it’s also a comment on the process of manufacturing art – not all painting become part of collections and are preserved. Some are repainted, some are abandoned – for every painting which hangs in the gallery, how many more are discarded? At least these paintings have a future.
The scale and shapes of the paintings also suggest immediate parallels with the human form – the pictures are human sized and the sagging canvas of Deflated IX (2010) looks oddly alive. In fact, it’s as if the slightly-comical works have taken on a life of their own, and despite their dilapidated and unconventional appearance, they’re treated like a bunch of friends.
All of this is reversed in Untitled (Hold No. 1) (2005), where there is no canvas. Instead, painted metal furniture is combined and hung on the wall, apparently defying gravity as it clings and balances when it really shouldn’t. It looks odd and out of place, and it is. But from another angle, she is playing with painting again. The piece has a lot in common with an ordinary painting in that it is painted and hung in a gallery, but it is clearly not a painting either. Interestingly, the large box on the wall is the same height and weight as the artist, as though she is representing herself within the work. As in the other works in the room, she has combined our expectations of a 2D painting with 3D sculpture. Although it initially seems out of place, it adds another dimension (if you’ll pardon the expression) to her exploration of shape and form.
I really liked Angela de la Cruz’s work. It poses interesting questions about what happens when art breaks out of the comforting categories we try to place it in, but it explores these ideas playfully and humorously. De la Cruz involves herself (and even represents herself) in the work, even though much of the physical production of it is done by assistants.
An interesting side note, which has got me thinking lots, is that the next room was an installation by Susan Philipsz. Her piece involved using sound to change the way space is viewed. But the open door between the rooms meant that her work spilled over into Angela de la Cruz’s exhibition, and I think the lament that was playing affected the way I looked at de la Cruz’s work. I found it hard to see it as playful and humorous, although it was easy to see afterwards. It got me wondering if I’d have responded differently in silence. Or, even more interestingly, if different music was playing. But more on that next time…
You can watch a 3 minute film about Angela de la Cruz’s Turner Prize 2010 Exhibition on 4OD.