At the beginning of the last century, more precisely in 1908, Wilhelm Worringer published Abstraction and Empathy (Abstraktion und Einfühlung) a key text for the art theory from the entire twentieth century and originally conceived as a doctoral thesis (discussed only the previous year). The main topic of the book is the opposition of empathy (or Einfühlung, a term coined by the German psychologist Theodor Lipps) and abstraction. While adherence to the first pole signals the confident openness most of the time towards reality, the choice to rely on its opposite is predictably the symptom of a certain reluctance towards what surrounds us.
If on the one hand Worringer can write that «the precondition for the drive to empathy is a happy pantheistic relationship of confidence between man and the phenomena of the external world», in the same way «the urge to abstraction is the product of a great internal restlessness inspired by the phenomena of the external world», the result of «an immense spiritual horror of space». In that same year Henri Matisse completed The Red Room, an absolute masterpiece that, in addition to earning the due honors and a place in the history of universal art, immediately played the part of the spoiler putting a strain on a theoretical system fresh from printing.
In the painting, which is now at the St. Petersburg Hermitage, Matisse frames a domestic environment, a room that, inhabited by a female figure and responding to a barely hinted perspective, actually serves as a pretext for a brazen display of color. The space of the painting is the space of color, a convincing, sure red, which eats palm to palm, consuming it, every escape in the distance, nipping in the bud the slightest hypothesis of depth. The plant and floral theme, which breaks the monotony of red by invading the tablecloth and the back wall with more blue shades, completes the two-tone texture of a pattern that takes over the whole scene, writing the equation of coincidence between painting and color. Maurice Denis, at the end of the nineteenth century, wrote how «a painting, before being a workhorse, a naked woman or any anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order».
Although varied in the thickness of brushstrokes, in the tonal catalog and in the consistency of the dough, even the pictorial tests by Anne Buckwalter (1977) and Sinéad Breslin (1989) seem to share, as well as a certain emotional temperature and some narrative devices, the use of the pattern as a formal constant. The two artists, born respectively in Lancaster (Pennsylvania) and Limerick (Ireland), are the protagonists of In Between Times, a double solo show set up, from 18 April to 2 June 2023, in the spaces of Andrea Festa‘s home gallery in Trastevere. Accompanied by a critical text by Gaia Bobò, the exhibition brings together thirteen recent pieces (all executed between 2022 and 2023), where the adoption of a regular plot to support the narrative reveals, in the unequivocal optical cleanliness by Buckwalter as in the pathetic and material ignitions by Breslin, the same anguish: «For both artists – writes Gaia Bobò – this rhythmic device coincides with a promise of order, which, however, seems formulated with the sole intention of being betrayed: its obsessive repetitiveness becomes a psychic plan of confrontation constantly destabilized by internal interference».
In Buckwalter’s painting, the ribbing of the wood and the designs of the wallpapers bring the memory of Pennsylvania – the same Pennsylvania of painters like Becky Suss – and of the family practice of carving, putting itself at the service of everyday life and an only apparent decorum. In the somewhat kitsch furnishings, under the flower pots and lace doilies, in fact, the drawers hide the sexual offensive and the tools of the trade: coloring wigs, fake phalluses, gloves; mirrors and notebooks offer naked and unsuspecting bodies. On the walls, erotic images, and among the dust and waste even a condom. At the center of Buckwalter’s investigation, then, also a reflection on vision devices and codes of social acceptance. The idea of the window as a diaphragm, then, as a perimeter in which the public trespasses the private, dates back to the seventies and the writings by Dan Graham: «What is depicted in the window represents, for those who are outside, the publicly accepted privacy code» (Video Architecture Television, 1979).
Others, however, the sources of the younger Sinéad Breslin: van Gogh – of whom she had a poster in the room, as a child – or Peter Doig, Chantal Joffe, David Hockney and Philip Guston, to name just a few. Like the masters of a more full-bodied pasta, painters of the exception to the rule, Breslin, writes Gaia Bobò, moves away from geometric exactness to bend the rhythm to the «warmth of a pictorial gesture that denies in itself any unreal claim to rigor». A strategy which is, therefore, antithetical to that of Buckwalter: if the latter seeks in the “adamantine painting”, in the obsession of cleanliness and in the long times of Magic Realism the way to existential investigation, the first finds shelter in executive immediacy, in the instantaneous and instinctual expression of an emotional overload, trying to drive away the burden of malaise that falls on the beach and in yoga breaks, Those dead times, those “middle times” in which the full density of existence is embraced, not without a little fear.
Anne Buckwalter, Sinéad Breslin. In Between Times
18.04 – 02.06.2023
Andrea Festa Fine Art
Lungotevere degli Altoviti 1, 00186 Roma RM
Graduated in Architectural Sciences at the Sapienza University in Rome, with a master’s degree in Contemporary Art and Management at the Luiss Business School, she currently works as an intern and project manager at Untitled Association. Graduated in Photography and Art Criticism in Bologna, she currently carries on her personal projects and is part of the team of the Forme Uniche cultural project.