Sunday, 28 March 2010

Lara Viana
Mirror 2008
Oil on Board 47 x 40 cm
Domo Baal, London
11 March 2010

I have been following this artist since her MA show at the RCA in 2007and it was a pleasure to see her first solo show in London. There were many interesting paintings, most involving a melancholic theme, sympathetically hung in an interesting gallery space on the first floor of a London town house.

The one I have chosen is Mirror [1] and depicts an ornate frame of a mirror that hangs on a wall decorated with a floral pattern. A couple of substantial leaves intrude from the left of the image and it is hard to tell if they are part of the wall or in the space that the mirror occupies.

The frame itself is an interesting device in painting both dividing up the space and focussing our attention on the space contained by it boundaries. It reminds us that we are looking at a representation, drawing our attention to the artificial nature of what we see.

In this case what we see within the frame is ambiguous, it could be that because of the oblique angle the mirror is reflecting what is behind us, or it could be the artist’s representation of the ‘void’. What is important is that we are aware that it is a representation or ‘sign’ of nothingness and we have registered its artificiality. This transformation has important parallels in the mourning process where a mourner finds ways of representing reality, emptying it out and assigning the haunting aspects of the reality of loss to a representation. [2]  In other words this painting works on two melancholic levels; it is a depiction of the “void” or nothingness and it references the process of making the reality of loss artificial by inscribing the idea of the loss in a symbolic space.

This notion of loss and artificiality is reinforced by the paint handling which is a mixture of fast soft brush strokes (the wall) contrasted by more definite strokes for the objects (the frame and the leaves). The use of medium to deteriorate the top edge of the frame on one side introduces the notion that the image is of something half-remembered (she works from found photographs) and intrudes into the framed area where the surface of the paint is dragged into a blurry tonal ‘reflection’. The blur could denote a misted surface to a mirror but as I suggest above I think it connotes the ‘void’. The colours are muted and the paint thin and transparent, allowing the primed surface to shine through, illuminating the image.

I have to confess to liking her paintings a lot, perhaps unsurprising as her brushwork is very similar to my own, in particular her ability to make an image that evokes the half remembered, leaving plenty of room for our own narrative.

[1] Photograph courtesy Domo Baal London
[2] Leader, Darian The New Black 2008 Hamish Hamilton 100-105

©blackdog 2010


  1. A very sensitive, careful, and mindful description and analysis again! I think all has already been said by yourself!
    Only some sentences: I personally like to put some leaves behind a mirror, e.g. olive leaves (today on Palm Sunday), often as a kind of 'souvenir' from former visits or meetings, but the painted leaves here look rather fresh, on the other side they seem- having got pale- to be a part of the ornated wallpaper - in any case a confusing ambiguity! The old-fashionedly framed mirror and the detail of a room reminds me of a "Berliner Zimmer" painted by Adolph Menzel- in any case there is a feeling of past-times. I'm interested in the motive/theme 'mirror' (in literature, fine arts) since some time (collecting texts and images/photo's)- "the representation of the 'void'" was the first 'point' I noticed. The mirror looks like a rain- window or a painting of a fluent element like water -in any case there is a kind of movement in the mirror awaking/evoking a feeling there is anything we don't get experienced- an area of privacy or uncertaincy we are not able to enter. -
    The 'void' of the mirror reminds me of a photograph I recently saw in the Folkwang Museum Essen: Lee Friedlander, Portland, Maine, 1962 -but there may be another intention involved in- for the face reflection we miss in the mirror is represented by the medium TV (as a perfect face a la mode).
    I googled a bit about the artist Lara Viana ( an analysis and an interview with her), I found some paintings of mirrors by her where we can see reflected some objects/furnitures- but in a grey tristesse - blurred way.
    Your thoughts about the "two melancholic levels" are very interesting!
    I find this painting blog about particularly modern art brilliant! I wished there were more blogs about those subjects (but maybe, I'm not informed well enough!).

  2. "fluent element like water" -I recall a poem by Sylvia Plath "Mirror":
    "...Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
    Searching my reaches for what she really is...."- and in the Narcissus tale the water plays also an important role -all this might enhance my impression of water!