Angela de la Cruz's twisted canvasses take spotlight in edgy Camden Arts Centre show

By Alex Hopkins | 09 April 2010
A photo of an artwork showing clutter under a white blanket under the grey floor of a gallery with white walls

Clutter VI with White Blanket (2004). Acrylic and oil on canvas

Exhibition: Angela de la Cruz: After, Camden Arts Centre, London, until May 30 2010

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. When artist Angela de la Cruz became exhausted with the illusion of the picture-plane, she found her starting point for a redefinition of its limits and representations. The results of her daring quest can be seen in a first solo show which questions the status of painting and playfully deconstructs it to reveal mankind’s troubled relationship with the world.

Spanish-born De la Cruz has been experimenting with painting for 20 years. It all started one day when she took the cross bar out of a picture and the painting bent. It was something of an epiphany for her and she never looked at a painting in the same way again. From then on she would see it as nothing more than an object.

A series of prosaic objects both fill and struggle for space in the gallery. At first glance there is nothing remarkable about them. An orange plastic chair lies forlornly in the middle of the floor, its metal legs broken and splayed at sharp angles. It is surrounded by a twisted canvas forced into a wooden chair and by canvasses tautened across a frame in one of the corners.

A photo of an artwork of crumpled red material on a white wall

Last Loose Fit (Pink) (2009). Oil on canvas

While all of the works are deeply rooted in the history of painting, De la Cruz is determined to find different dimensions to the objects. Canvasses are folded in on themselves, wedged into corners or crudely broken to create something that looks like it has been trampled on or suffered some kind of accident.

Walking in, the viewer is immediately struck by what looks like an oversized, crumpled bin liner. Only on closer inspection does it become apparent that this hides a fractured wooden table.

These half-destroyed painting-objects all take on human frailties, both through their titles and in the positions they occupy in the gallery. The urine-yellow painted Homeless is a canvas stretched across a broken frame. It lurks ominously opposite Ashamed, a small yellow canvas folded in on itself and jammed into the wall. Both are defined by what is absent, leaving it to the viewer to imagine the emotions signified by these coarse materials.

A photo of a wooden chair with a blue bag underneath it on the grey floor of a gallery with white walls

Nothing Under a Chair (1999). Oil on canvas and wooden chair

It is precisely the lack of the human body that gives De la Cruz’s work power. The warped canvasses seem to be its substitute, often to chilling effect. Torso is a box that hangs from the wall made to the exact measurements of the artist’s body, containing old paintings. This idea of recycling is prevalent and is seen again in the series Clutter, which incorporates the leftovers and odds and ends of other paintings.

Yet despite its reliance on old, rudimentary materials, there is something refreshing about De la Cruz's vision. With its half-dressed frames, cracked surfaces and splintered joins, these objects evoke a hostile world doomed to struggle against itself, shrouded in pain and suffering.

Amongst its crushed contours, however, one senses the expression of an indefatigable determination which is both brutal and oddly serene in its refusal to surrender.

All photos © the artist and Camden Arts Centre, camdenartscentre.org

Admission free. Visit the Centre online for programme of accompanying events.

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