Ángela de la Cruz
Spain, 1965
When Ángela de la Cruz embarked on her career in London, painting was at a low ebb. Neither the memory of Neo-Expressionism, which fell out of favour as quickly as it had risen to the height of ‘taste’ in the 1980s, nor Neo-Conceptual tendencies, which were wary of any trace of materiality, nor the emergence of the Young British Artists (YBA), led by Damien Hirst and spurred on by the government of Tony Blair, managed to draw sufficient attention to painting (or to approaches that declared themselves the heirs of its processes in order to then deconstruct them). From her first exhibitions, de la Cruz, who studied philosophy in Santiago de Compostela and arrived in Britain in the late 1980s, showed an interest in experimenting with a medium many considered ‘moribund’. In 1995 she presented Ashamed in a group exhibition. The work is a small canvas with a buckling frame. Its yellowish colour makes it look old, or as if someone had urinated on it. The piece appeared crouched in a corner of the room, paradoxically expressing both inhibition and self-confidence at having conquered a space only it had chosen to occupy. Ashamed was followed by pieces with equally eloquent titles, such as Homeless (1996) and Misery (1998), in which the artist continued to pursue her investigation of the boundaries of painting and sculpture. De la Cruz often uses personification and humour in her work, and these elements have constantly evolved, driven by her interest in the relationships that arise between the materiality of painting, the space, the body, and subjectivity. References to the picaresque novel in her early work, for instance, reflect this interest. This context was completely unrelated to the approaches she was pursuing, but there was at that time (and still is) another parallel context in which issues related to the body and physicality were critical (deriving almost always from experiences involving pain and pleasure, such as disease, war, and sexuality), and that in some exceptional cases those issues were expressed in pictorial form. This is also where the originality of her work lies. Clutter VII (Yellow) (2004) is a slightly later work. It belongs to a series she produced after another called ‘Commodity Paintings’, in which the idea was to make ‘sexy’ paintings ‘in lurid colours’ in order to explore the concepts of overproduction, excess, and fetishism in relation to the art market and as a reaction against her previous stage, which was dominated by representations of the abject. In contrast, the pieces in the ‘Clutter’ series reflect an ethic of recycling that is present in all her output but taken to an extreme in this case. In an interview the artist talked about how in Galicia every part of a slaughtered pig is used—nothing goes to waste—and said that in a way her works were sparked by memories of this kind. Pieces like Clutter VII (Yellow) also make reference to the artist’s own body (the scale of the work reflects her weight and height) and evoke the bags and metal boxes used to store the bodies of those killed in war or accidents. Finally, it is important to note that while the works in the ‘Clutter’ series forge links to her earlier output—always focused on the presence and absence of the human body—in this case the specific context of events unfolding at the time was crucial. The works appeared when images like the ones showing the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were making a huge impression on people. The twisting of the stretcher bar and canvas and the folds and compression to which the metal brackets are subjected appear to lend the work an anthropomorphic quality (a tragic one in this case), which is the hallmark of painting that strives to reach ‘beyond itself’.
Pedro del Llano