Carmen Calvo has been enviably consistent over the years. With her first works in the mid seventies, she flung herself into the pictorial fray using primary materials such as baked clay, chalk, branches or ceramic tiles in the tradition of the Eastern Coast of Spain. She carefully placed all of the materials on the canvas, aligning them around horizontal axes. This desire for order in the pictorial space also led her to work in series, which were in themselves an example of that order. The series devoted to writing and landscapes are outstanding in that respect. The delicacy and tact that characterise her work have meant that it has sometimes been read in terms of feminine (not feminist) postulates, as if such matters, anchored in a supposedly different sensibility, were the exclusive domains of women. It does not seem to have been her intention to be associated with aesthetic ideas such as those formulated by the likes of Miriam Schapiro or Judy Chicago, to name two artists who have been linked to pattern painting and the budding feminism of the seventies, although they do share certain formal similarities with Calvo’s work. She herself rejects such analogies; her stance is firmly anchored in her own personal journey, though that does not prevent her from asserting herself as an active artist among a generation that has learnt from the legacy of tradition. Hence it is reasonably safe to state that Calvo takes up the problems of genres (the still life, the portrait, the landscape) and reinvents them by incorporating elements from the classic avant-gardes alongside others alluding to periods pre-dating modernity. Thus, the piece from the ‘Paisajes’ series (1979) is a rectangular, ecru-coloured canvas on which she has arranged countless, tiny tree and flower figures sculpted out of baked clay. This is a material she has used profusely, which usually takes the shape of a solidified paste squeezed directly from the tube and coated with the colour of the liquid clay. With this and other similar works, Calvo creates an anti-landscape, shunning both Renaissance perspective and other, later kinds, thus cancelling out the interplay between ground and figure. With Tal cual (1989), a square canvas functioning much like a collage with a set of objects attached to it (keys, a shell, a plastic flower, a mirror, buttons, a miniature picture, an embroidered heart-shaped fabric), she introduces subjectivity by giving expression to some of her obsessions and fantasies. Thus, we find the key that opens the door of dreams and secrets (a nod to the Surrealists), the sharp objects that refer to coital sexuality, the amulets that evoke passages of religious transcendence (fetishes and votary offerings of a life full of hidden corners). And everything has a bygone air about it, a feeling of time past, of childhood and adolescence relived. Recuperación (1993), the most recent of the three, is a piece on canvas in which Calvo revisits habits and customs dating back to the beginning of her career. Among them: the extreme formal austerity, the enumeration (the inscription of random numbers), the alignment of elements in the style of a text and the brown, earth tones. As if in all those years, Carmen Calvo, ever true to herself, never abandoned her firm principles.
Works that may interest you