A new exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries presents the work of Venezuelan artist Luchita Hurtdo. ‘I Live I Die I Will Be Reborn’ is a retrospective show which explores themes around the artist’s own life and includes her experimentations with diverse styles in art, from representation to abstraction. Luchita’s long career started in the 1930’s and her work has been influenced from her time living in Venezuela, Mexico and the United States. She has been associated with several artistic groups and movements such as the Mexican muralists, the Surrealists, the Dynaton group and the Los Angeles Council of Women Artists but her practise has remained a unique output. What is even more amazing is that this is the first exhibition by the artist, who is now ninety-eight, in a public gallery.
During the beginning of her career Luchita made artwork which experimented with form, material and subject matter. ‘Untitled’, from 1951 is an oil painting on canvas which depicts a composition made up of abstract forms. The forms are vibrant and angular. The bright colours are off-set by deeper hues which create a darker undertone in the composition. Some of the forms appear humanoid but it’s not certain. It could be possible to recognise a group of figures with large block heads in the foreground and an elongated, orange figure with sharp arms in the centre of the picture. The forms look like modernist sculptures but they are also their own language within the image. I really enjoyed the bright colours and the dragged brush strokes which gives the piece an edgy, urban feel.
Luchita explores the possibilities and limitations that exist between thought and language in a gallery in the centre of the show. The seven paintings on display are bold, graphic abstract images. They are made up of expressively painted linear forms and geometric shapes. The forms are all based on words and written language which have been repeated to the point where they become abstract and decorative. The fragmented lettering obscures the linguistic source and meaning of each artwork. Several canvases in the display have also been cut into strips and then reconfigured into new coded compositions. These works were influenced by her children’s ability to switch between using English and Spanish languages. Tracking this phenomenon has revealed the complexities of meaning in visual and written language.
During the 1970’s the style of Luchita’s work moved from abstraction to a more representational and naturalistic style. The exhibition showcases a selection of her ‘I Am’ paintings which typically portray the artists own body in a domestic setting. ‘Untitled’ from 1970 shows us an encounter between two female figures taken from an almost birds eye view. There is a similarity with the work of Frida Kahlo here whose work is also concerned with the artist’s own body as subject matter. The female figures are approaching each other from the edges of the picture. They appear to be standing or floating above a boldly patterned carpet. There is a visual tension between the three dimensionalities of the figures and the flatness of the pattern on the carpet in the work. This is disorientating and confusing at first sight but the female figures are so heavily stylised that they actually become more of a pattern or design in the picture rather than an illusion of representation. Luchita is again experimenting with forms and using pattern, the shape of objects and her own body to create a new visual language.
‘I Live I Die I Will Be Reborn’ is now open until the 20th of October 2019.
For more information please visit; https://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/luchita-hurtado-i-live-i-die-i-will-be-reborn
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