The life and death of painting and its presence in the contemporary art world has been, and still is, continually debated, with the established norms of painting being broken from every angle. However, it takes a certain audacity to play around with the medium of painting; it is, after all, the most traditional and solemn of art forms. It is through Angela de la Cruz’s work that we can see this break happening in a contemporary but also controversial way, with her work challenging the definition of painting and sculpture, and where the distinction between the two mediums becomes somewhat blurred. The clear identity of a painting, established so firmly after so many centuries of recurrent use, has therefore been distinctly challenged.
Born in La Coruña, Spain in 1965, the storm-tossed Atlantic sea town where Picasso spent his most tumultuous early years, De la Cruz moved to London in 1989, where she has subsequently stayed for her entire artistic career. She began her studies at Chelsea College of Art, continuing in Fine Art at Goldsmiths’ College and completing an MA in Sculpture and Critical Theory at the Slade School of Art in 1996. Her work has been exhibited across the world, with many solo and group exhibitions to her name. However it was in 2005, when she was midway through organising a major show in Lisbon when she suffered a brain haemorrhage. While in a coma for several months, she gave birth to her daughter, but her recovery has never truly been completed, and it was only in 2009, with the aid of assistants, that she began to start working again.
Regardless of this brief spell of illness, her work still controversially challenges the idea of painting and sculpture, and it was in her first exhibition in a UK public gallery, at the Camden Arts Centre in 2010, that one saw a compilation of her works produced over her twenty-year career. The show included pieces such as ‘Nothing’, ‘Ashamed’ and ‘Homeless’, works whose condition as art are precarious, but yet still hold an air of vulnerability about them. These titles reveal an almost human quality to her work, however they are not an outpouring of De la Cruz’s anxieties, but rather an expression of a driven determination in an antagonistic world, where even the gallery space of the Camden Arts Centre seemed unsympathetic; crushing and trapping works in doorways or corners. But it was perhaps this entrapment of her work in the Camden Arts Centre that gained her a nomination for the 2010 Turner Prize, and although unsuccessful, this nomination was truly justified.
De la Cruz’s starting point for her work is in the deconstruction of painting, with this idea coming about when she apparently removed the cross bar out of the back of a canvas, with the painting bending as a result, and it was from this moment on that she began to look at painting as an object. This idea will be pressed further in her up-and-coming exhibition at the Lisson Gallery, March 30th – April 30th 2011, entitled ‘Transfer’. The work for this exhibition implies a transition period in De la Cruz’s career, partly because she is less physically involved with the work, but also because it is becoming more direct, free, minimal and clean. The gallery states that what can be seen through her art exhibited as a whole is that a “scene of frenetic violent activity has just taken place leaving in its wake the strangely paradoxical feeling of spent energy and a sense of calm; a visual catharsis.” Her work can most definitely be seen as violent, with canvases ripped off their frames and chairs laid helplessly broken on the floor, but De la Cruz instead sees her distinct form of art as humorous; in a way a cruel form of sadistic painting.
De la Cruz’s work brings a three-dimensional quality to painting, and we are left pondering whether it falls under a category of ‘sculptural painting’ or ‘painterly sculpture’. The line between these two mediums has most certainly been blurred, but the new exhibition at the Lisson Gallery will without a doubt prove that her work puts a firm stamp on the ideas of painting, and that it’s death is far from imminent.
Originally published on Line Magazine blog, 29/04/11