March 01, 2011
“My objective with this work is to immortalize the perishable.” (Mariana Vera)
These exquisite pieces by Mariana Vera are, at first glance, deeply connected to a multitude of chapters in the historical progression of the arts of the Americas, Europe and Asia. Each of them is composed of a series of petals, leaves, needles and other ephemera from the garden or forest floor. The artist has fashioned geometric patterns and sometimes free-form designs with the dried elements of nature. Without knowing their components we are immediately compelled to think of such visual sources and affinities as the exquisite botanical illustrations of eighteenth or nineteenth century England or France, floral paintings and drawings of Baroque masters of the Netherlands or Spain, the quasi-photographic illusions of plants, flowers and insect specimens by the Dutch painter Jan van Kessel and his contemporaries, as well as the floral depictions in monochrome ink of Zen masters from Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Mariana Vera’s work is indeed in conversation with all of these manifestations of nature in the fine arts, whether she is aware of any direct links with them or not. At the same time, more contemporary phenomena are called to mind. When I first saw these mesmerizing “nature pictures” I was equally reminded of the work of the Pattern and Decoration movement in American painting of the 1970s and 80s or of some contemporary South American artists whose art combines spellbinding designs derived from the observed world with hallucinating color and suggestions of otherworldly form. However, the work of Vera is completely different. Her exuberant re-configurations of natural life come from an aesthetic entirely her own. Her art derives from a direct confrontation with telluric forces and the efflorescence of cosmic energy. While Mariana Vera’s art refers to the modernist trope of collage in which disparate elements are combined on a surface, her appropriations of nature result in a form of trompe l’oeil conceptualism. The eyes of the beholder are at first glance tricked into believing that what is applied to the surface is paper or some other human-made substance. Yet when we realize that she has produced a direct confrontation with life’s purest products we are shocked by the almost-unmediated natural environment created by the artist (I must stress the word “almost” of course because this art work is always the product of aesthetic intervention). While Picasso, Braque, Miró, Masson, Tamayo and so many other European and American modernists in the twentieth century inserted such natural substances as sand or leaves onto their canvases, Vera goes considerably beyond this technique. She creates works of art in which the only non-organic substance is the support (paper or canvas) on which the artfully arranged natural forms are placed. The lyrical and poetic qualities of these stunning pieces enhance their pulsating, living aura. We are soothed by their presence and they provide us with an endless source of contemplation and meditation.
Dr. Edward J. Sullivan, Helen Gould Sheppard Professor; Professor of Art History; Institute of Fine Arts, NYU; Ph.D. 1979 (Fine Arts), M.A. 1975 (Fine Arts), M.A. 1972 (Spanish and Portuguese), B.A. 1971 (Fine Arts and Spanish and Portuguese), New York University.