October 2010

Angela de la Cruz

Camden Arts Centre


Angela de la Cruz paints and then punishes her canvases, tearing or otherwise manipulating them into sculptures that take on unsettlingly human qualities. Broken paintings become stand-ins for broken people. In Homeless (1996), a sickly white canvas hangs like skin from a cracked supporting stretcher that has been wedged into a corner. It almost seems to cry out. Yet the artist’s goal is less to evoke emotion than to push at the representational possibilities of abstraction and puncture the noble status of the whole medium of painting.

Born in Spain, based in London, and short-listed for this year’s Turner Prize, de la Cruz tweaks ordinary materials in ways that transform their meaning. In Torso (2004), a cool, minimalist box hangs on the wall, not quite concealing a ragged fray of torn canvas, like an artist’s own backstory that refuses to stay hidden. Ashamed (1995) consists of two tiny panels, hanging unobtrusively like an open book. You had to turn your back to everyone and stand in a corner to view it. More mysterious is Self (1997), which features two similar paintings in brown monochrome, one hanging on the wall and the other broken and jammed into a chair facing the wall, as if contemplating its own idealized portrait.

De la Cruz’s most painterly work is also her most recent. Stuck (2001 – 10), completed after the artist suffered a stroke that confined her to a wheelchair, presents gently sensuous waves of canvas painted in somber blue. The piece appears partly caught inside the wall, possibly accounting for the title, but it’s hard not to see a sly reference to Stuckism, a movement of artists who assert painting above all else. De la Cruz cares deeply about painting too, but she subverts and refigures it in ways that are witty, innovative, and poignant.

– – Roger Atwood