BY LILY FAUST • June 4, 2003
In her first solo show in New York, Colombian-born painter Ana Patricia Palacios addresses the theme of identity within the confines of duality. There is a particular autobiographical element here; Ms Palacios is an identical twin. Apparent similitude is a natural topic for this artist, whose examination of such themes is closely bound to her experience as a mirror image of another human being.
Palacios gives her canvases an uneven whitewash that leaves parts of the canvas in thin veils of white, while strong white brush stokes remain evident elsewhere. This raw white wash then becomes a background for penciled-in outlines of forms that seem to have been copied onto canvas. The technique of outlining silhouettes, reminiscent of cartoon drawings, infuses a strong graphic presence in these paintings. Then she isolates her subject matter, usually one or two girls, in the center of the white background, while filling in their outlines selectively with a particular shade of blood red darkened with Venetian undertones.
This color, possibly reflecting the visceral communion between human beings, exudes a sense of melancholy reminiscent of Symbolist art. Forms having to do with duality, such as two identical girls, two similar looking boxers, and in some painting Japanese geishas; their hands cozy inside red boxing gloves, suggest a metaphor for the artist’s personal experience. In her Duality series, the girls are dressed in red identical dresses. Yet the gestural brushstrokes and amorphous dye stains, which help fill dresses, become painterly abstractions that help differentiate one twin from the other. The silhouette, a shorthand device for depicting a particular identity, is used for duplication here. The shared outlines of identical form, as in the shared genes of twin sisterhood, do not, however, result in duplicate similarity. It is the details, such as the lighter brown hair of one girl next to the darker shade, or the twisted left ankle of one versus the solidly placed feet of the other, that become important in determining crucial differences in identity through surface appearance.
Penciled-in words and numbers surround the images, houses in grids or scripted on lines that guide the words into a horizontal order. Words such as, “twins, identical, duplicata, copia, repeticion”and hundreds of others, with shared associations of duality and replication in several languages, form a notebook background for the figures while revealing the focus of the artist. In other works important personal dates, such as 1927, the year of Palacios’s mother’s birth, form a chronological basis for artist’s life. Even the exhibition catalogue is prepared with the careful intent to reflect the deceptive (and unique) nature of duplicates. Many of the reproductions in the catalogue, though very similar to the original work in the gallery, are actually reproductions of other. Subtle differences, such as changes in the order of words, differences in numbers and variations in the swirl of red pigments articulate the emphatic and cohesive manner in which the artist conveys the tight words of uniqueness within crushing similarity.
As the title of the exhibition suggest, Coming to blows is about the struggle within the self to define identity. This struggle is given expression in the boxing gloves that the artist paints over the hands of geisha girls, and on the boxing girls from a collection of twenty-five small paintings that depict scenes of struggle. While individual identity is indeed established in many of the painting; the extent of the struggle to find identity is what is so skillfully depicted here.