Study I, Paintings, 39 x 39

Felicities of Form and Touch in the Paintings of Cecilia Fernandez Q

Because she began as a sculptor, the Chilean painter Cecilia Fernandez Q came first to form. Color followed in due time: subtle and refined combinations of complementary secondary and earthy hues that define, without being subordinated to exquisitely drawn human and animal figures informed by an underlying sense of abstraction. Because drawing, the bare bones of all visual expression, is central to her work, the essential armature on which her structural aesthetic rests, a firm charcoal line remains a visible element in her oils on canvas. Fernandez Q’s compositions featuring dog subjects are especially engaging, but not in the manner that one is used to; for they contain not a hint of canine cuteness. Quite, the opposite, they seem more akin to certain works by Francis Bacon or Marshal Arisman for their starkness. There is no sign, however, of fangs, of feral beastliness in these pictures. In “Dog 1” and “Study 1,” for example, the animal is seen sleeping, curled into itself in that almost fetal manner of its species, harmless and unguarded. The position is poignant but it is hardly the point of these pictures, wherein the tension emanates from Fernandez Q’s taut handling of the spatial relationships to which the great Abstract Expressionist teacher/guru Hans Hofmann referred as “push and pull.” Indeed other kinships with the practice of the New York School (and of the Englishman, Bacon, as well for that matter) are also evident in the style of this Chilean artist. Perhaps most prominent among them is her use of drips and rivulets of diluted oil pigment as formal and expressive elements, as well as spontaneous markers of painterly “process,” as seen in “Study 1.” Here, too, the title seems significant, in that there is really nothing tentative or study-like, nothing sketchy about this superbly resolved and finished work. What the term seems to refer to in this context is the sense of immediacy and discovery experienced by the artist in the act of creation. Another distinctive feature of Fernandez Q’s aesthetic is her use of the intriguingly off-center, asymmetrical composition, as seen in “Dog 1,” where the severely cropped, curled sleeping canine figure hovers pregnantly at the upper right corner of the composition. Its form is at once weighty and weightless. Seemingly aloft, like a balloon, its grayish brown hue hovers against an area of pale pink, positioned above a broad block of baby blue, enlivened by variegated lines and drips, that anchors the bottom of the composition. It is characteristic of Fernandez Q’s painterly panache and subtlety as a colorist that she carries off the painting with such striking élan. Drawing and painting are combined with a winning insouciance reminiscent of Larry Rivers in another oil and charcoal on canvas by Fernandez Q called “The Beginning.” Here we encounter a slender young woman with wispy bangs seated barefoot with crossed legs on the floor, her arms hugging the knee on which she rests her chin. Her eyes wander away from the viewer, as though dreamily gazing at something outside the right edge of the canvas; yet the picture engages one fully, due to the artist’s engagement with subtly tactile qualities of mark-making and “touch.” It is precisely her ability, exemplified here, to make the subject at once palpable and elusive, with the edges of forms alternating tantalizingly between blurred suggestiveness and sharp linear delineation, that makes Celia Fernandez Q such a complex and consistently fascinating painter. –– Maureen Flynn

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