January 01, 2009
Fanny Sanín - latincollector
By JASON DUBS - Proposing “color as the thread” connecting the works in this small retrospective of paintings by Fanny Sanín, curator Mónica Espinel conceptualized the exhibition as tracing “the history of [Sanín’s] personal treatment of color,” as she wrote in the exhibition catalogue. Charting the painter’s artistic development over forty years, this concise survey subtly reconstructed that journey, effectively emphasizing the breakthroughs and transitions in her work, while also implicitly mapping its geographic coordinates. Sanín’s nuanced handling of color is only half of the story, however, and the ten works in the show also demonstrated that the artist’s constructive approach expertly balances compositional structure with the subtleties of color, resulting in “chromatic structures”—a term suggested by the title of her recent exhibition at the Instituto Italo-Latino Americano in Rome.
While this notion carries echoes of Donald Judd’s “primary structures,” any association of Sanín’s work with Minimalism is indirect. As numerous critics have pointed out, it is just another facet of the multi-dimensional dialogue between her paintings and those of the innovators of twentieth-century abstraction: from Malevich and Russian Constructivism to Mondrian and De Stijl; from Abstract Expressionism, as practiced by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Ad Reinhardt, and the color field paintings of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler to the hard edge paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella; and from the Constructive Universalism of Joaquín Torres-García to the sculpture of fellow Colombians Edgar Negret and Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar.
Sanín’s artistic process has been compared to executing scientific experiments and to solving mathematical equations but also to composing music. After working through a series of watercolor or acrylic studies on paper (a selection of which were available at the gallery upon request) to resolve chromatic and compositional challenges, she arrived at the elegant “mathematical” solutions and the “musical” harmonies that were on view.
Oil No. 8, 1966, was the show’s point of departure. Created around the time of Sanín’s relocation from Monterrey, Mexico, to London, this cool composition, dominated by greens and blues at the core, with splashes of muted reds and oranges, revealed an organic energy in the forms and in animated strokes in sections of impasto. While pointing to the painter’s interest in expressionist or informalist painting, passages in the central section of the painting also signaled her move toward the stains and washes of color field painting.
Sanín’s return to Mexico in 1969 was marked by a transition in her work toward the crisp, precise forms of hard-edge painting. This could be seen in vertically-striped paintings such as Acrylic No. 7, 1970, in which six fields of brown, taupe, orange, and green straightened and solidified the soft edges of Newman’s “zips” while moving in the direction of Kelly’s discrete fields of shape and color. Sanín further developed this orientation after moving to New York in 1971, and this progression could be seen in Acrylic No. 4, 1977, in which a central, translucent rectangle took on the colors beneath it, producing tone shifts in the colors over which it hovered. Despite the aspect of stacking introduced by the overlapping rectangle, the painting showed the artist’s continuing interest in a vertical axis of symmetry and a tendency toward increasingly multi-layered compositions.
A mid-career retrospective at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá in 1987 provided Sanín the opportunity to reflect on her body of work; this was followed by a reinterpretation and renewal of her previous practice. This evolution, reflected in Acrylic No. 4, 1988, included the introduction of diagonal elements and curving borders into Sanín’s paintings, moving beyond the strict horizontal and vertical lines of the grid and providing new spatial depth.
Her most recent works showed an ever-increasing structural complexity and had a reinvigorated sense of energy and movement. In Acrylic No. 2, 2005, a core of coral was bordered by narrow purple vertical bands, which were connected at the center by an olive green. The purple bands were then juxtaposed with two rectangular fields of yellow; this greater intensity of color was set off by two charcoal-grey blocks stacked atop black bases. The whole composition was activated by two thin white lines that grazed the central column before refracting at a slight angle toward the bottom of the canvas. Acrylic No 3, 2006 continued in the same direction, with its navy blue quadrilaterals receding into space against four caramel triangles, creating a corridor between two columns of green anchored and capped with small blue rectangles.
Like the process of their creation, viewing Sanín’s paintings requires contemplation, and they fully reveal themselves only after a period of engagement. Treading the line between organic development and strict order, they finally arrive at equilibrium between the two extremes. In a parallel way, this selection of works also performed a delicate balancing act: grounding the artist’s work in a formal progression and highlighting the individuality of Sanín’s practice while also showcasing the passion with which she continues to explore the possibilities offered by geometric abstraction.