Georgina Spengler                        Biography                              Paintings                                   Bibliography                                Contacts


Hidden Landscapes                                                                                                                                ITALIANO                                               CLOSE


One of the most fascinating strands in the history of art and more specifically of painting is how some of the great artists became, during their lifetime, more and more seduced by the power of their brush.
If one looks at the developments of the careers of Titian, Rembrandt, Turner and Monet, one can even begin to measure how, step by step, they gradually succumb to the power of paint and their gesture in applying it, as the absolute predominance of the subject becomes little by little eroded into a completely new synthesis between narration and form, where form assumes more and more importance in the balance between the two. The subject, however, remains an objective vision, whether it’s a late “pieta” by Titian or a late self-portrait by Rembrandt, or a final landscape by Turner, or the water lilies from the last works by Monet, they are all veering progressively towards a near total abstraction.

From the last works of Monet to the full blown gestural abstraction of the 50’s is, on examination, only a very short step. The subject, if there is one, is no longer an objective reality but a purely subjective viewpoint that requires individual interpretation. More often than not however, the gesture exists without any need of the support of a figurative narration. Clement Greenberg, the very influential American critic, realised that late Monet was fundamental to that strand of 50’s art which eschewed geometrical abstraction choosing instead to work with the “two dimensionality of the pictorial plane and the physical material of painting” (Rothko...Soulages...Clyfford Styll...Franz Kline and Barnett Newman amongst others). With certain artists working in this epoch, specifically some works by Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, the vision of their paintings inevitably conjures up in the mind of the viewer an impression of figuration, and more specifically an idea of the landscape. Some of the latter’s works in particular are so close to some of Monet’s final canvases that they can almost touch. Throughout the history of western art, certain themes, once painted, have remained ver-present: The Portrait, the History painting (including religious), the Still Life, the Genre Scene and the Landscape. These subjects never die, they merely become transformed, and the transition from the interpretation of an objective narration to a subjective one represents one of the great breakthroughs in Western Art .

Both Georgina Spengler and Isabel Ramoneda are gestural painters, and both are inspired by the landscape, not I feel, in an attempt to attain an objective depiction, but in a far more private and, in Isabel’s case, almost hidden way. Their landscapes are very interiorised visions; memories of nature rather than specifically identifiable scenes: Each of us may have a different response, a different memory recalled, a different association of elements but we are in doubt that we are looking at paintings that recall or at least have something to do with the landscape.

Georgina’s work is akin to being submerged from head to toe in the most luxuriant vision of a landscape with washes of the richest colour everwhere the eyes settles. They embrace you in their beauty and lushness, taking you deep inside their entrails, where colour is drips from every crevice. One is plunged within the densest of possible landscapes surrounded by light, movement and of course colour.... they are akin to forests where light speckles through amidst the thick foliage. Georgina talks of the influence of Fragonard on these works and there is something in the freedom and abandon of the french artist’s brush which creates a parentage between the two. Yet Fragonard, for all his painterly wildness, lived in an era where the objective narration was an absolute law by which you were bound, whereas Georgina can benefit from the total freedom of the epoch in which she lives.

Words are present in both the artists’ works and it is interesting to compare how each draws inspiration from their very different use. Georgina’s words are pieces of poetry, easily decipherable and taken from poetic sources that inspire her; Isabel however, uses both isolated words and lines with or without words as a feature of memory, an

element to this very personal world of hers that we are allowed to gaze into through her paintings. Her pictures are more private affairs, similar to witnessing someone’s visual diary where memories evolve haphazardly on and through the checkered paint surface, which is full of complex marks using pencils, little drawings, words, both decipherable and not, scratchings, annotations, and naturally paint, whether dripping or coagulating, in weak lines and strong lines, colours which can be barely discerned and others which are both rich and highly visible. In these works Isabel has made strong use of color, first applied, then sometimes cancelled before maybe being re- applied endlessly to the wood. Her colour is not a balm but shows a more fractured and angular and ultimately more private notation. The more you look the more you get dragged in just as with Georgina, but here one is dragged not only into the dense structure of the work but simultaneously into Isabel’s most private and personal being as everything is there buried deep inside.

Both artists, in contrast to many of the great historical abstractionists, (Soulages, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline Mathieu, Hartung) who relied on certain pictorial gestures which became their “leitmotif”, use a multitude of techniques. In both there is no restriction to which technique or method they use, anything goes, and in respect to the earlier epoch, this represents a significant difference. I suspect that the earlier gestural painters would have considered this approach to be a travesty to the purity of the work... a lack of rigour; yet that thesis has clearly disappeared in today’s world. Already an artist like Cy Twombly has, in various times in his long career, embraced different forms of painting and gesture.

Georgina and Isabel both work on wood and eschew the huge dimensions so in vogue today. Their works are highly concentrated and repay countless viewings, revealing untold riches as one becomes more and more familiar with them. They both spend endless hours layering and refining their compositions.

The classic image of Pollock on the floor in a state of ecstatic creation as he applies great swathes of swirling paint to his canvases, is far from the more considered approach of our artists: Their paintings involve thought and balance, and are created slowly, over time, as they meticulously build up their pictures surfaces .Isabel will often cancel great areas and begin again, leaving however a visual memory of what had been there before, as she struggles to obtain that compositional balance she searches for.

They are both painters in the most classical sense of the word, yet both are also contemporary artists and they demonstrate that both painting and the relevance of a subject like the landscape are neither dead nor mere bourgeois fancies better relegated to the history books.

The importance of painting is re-asserting itself once again everywhere.
Exhibitions abound and the dark age when painters hid away in their garrets working unnoticed and unseen are over. Somehow there almost appears to be a connection between the dark age of painting and the abandonment of the idea of *beauty* (whatever it may signify), as a necessary or possible component in an art work. These values appeared to belong to another age associated with the famous distinction between “high” and “low” art and where *beauty* as a value belonged to a comfortable, bourgeois vision of the world which got swept away by the cultural tsunami of the 60’s and the political revolutions which so dominated cultural debate producing many written and oral outpourings maybe most notably by the Frankfurt school of philosophy of Adorno and Horkheimer. The cultural fracture which opened up has now to a great extent healed and now any medium is acceptable as a vehicle for a work of art.Georgina and Isabel are contemporary artists yet see themselves as working within a tradition almost as old as man himself. yet for each of them, that doesn’t represent a limit but more a strength and an endless well from which to draw inspiration.

That declared iconoclast Tracy Emin, announced on English National television at the dawn of her international reputation that “painting is dead” and irrelevant to today’s world, only some years later, to fill the British pavilion at a Venice Biennale with her drawings and paintings.

There is something wonderful about the often small, but occasionally great, changes that have taken place in the history of painting over the centuries, very very rarely treading water for any length of time, as against the sudden great ruptures, so frequent in the contemporary world, which are accompanied by immediate acclaim and attention, only to be so often revealed as brittle to the unpitying test of time and memory.

Ian Rosenfeld