Gaby Collins-Fernández: To A Portrait
New YorkAnonymous Gallery
To A Portrait
November 10 – December 31, 2022
Gaby Collins-Fernández’s solo exhibition To A Portrait unraveled my defenses. Borders give me a sense of calm and control, but the six wall-height paintings on view at Anonymous escape these boundaries, giving a broader dimension to one’s psychic, emotional, and bodily life. Words and images entwine and stretch past their limits, shattering into fragments of human desire. The work sneers at my guarded caution in its excess, passing up my small world for one with much more fascinating, beautiful complication.
When viewing the exhibition as a whole, my vision floated, unable to land on any one thing. The paintings’ surfaces look like streams of semi-digested information. You see hints of online scrolling, but also tapestries cut into parts with materials and forms carrying over from one painting to the next. Selfies of the artist, both erotic and humorous, intermingle with historical imagery like the fingers from Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto(1460). These often repeated images are printed on beach towels, chiffon, and double sided sequins; fabrics that are both pulled flat over the wooden stretchers and bunched up like drapery, creating lyrical folds that hang off the painting’s edge. These folds filled my mind with eros, sensuality, discovery, and undoing.
My eyes eventually settled on Mask Rapture (2022), a dense painting organized around the features of a distorted face. Hidden under layers of painted beach towel and printed chiffon is the image of a Scrabble board. Posing seductively above is a selfie of the artist with the letter “W” hanging from her lips, its lines painted bright white like a pair of fangs. In Scrabble, players form words from random letters and create new ones by laying them across each other. Unless blocked or contested, each letter becomes a potential departure point for new connections and meaning. It brings to mind the sex life of language: at the height of excitation one’s words are often spoken partially formed or in the wrong place. In these moments, language is disorganized and abstracted; its structures break down, making way for pleasure or vulnerability.
While looking around at the other paintings, it was clear to me that the structure of the grid on which the game is played was being upended and morphed into an alternative structure with its own logic: endless undulation, movement, and repetition. This is evident in funny, yet poignant, ways. Is That All There Is To Scrabble (2022) incorporates another selfie of the artist printed across the bottom of the diptych. Here Collins-Fernández is dressed in a plaid shirt, its grid of checkers bending around the body. Reappearing as a ghostly background is the same Scrabble board, its grid flaccid and dissolving. This effect not only disrupts the grid, but reveals its structures as malleable, borne by a desire to control. By repeating the fold, Collins-Fernández’s work resists containment, insisting on its own disorganized wholeness, yielding no ground.
The folds of Fracture Mechanics (2022) are in the process of tearing. Out of one giant zigzag shape comes the phrases “All looks are not a crack” spelled in big letters. The word “looks” doubles back and tangles with a web of painted black strands. Partly obscured, it can also be read as the word “holes” perhaps suggesting a negativity in the center of the gaze. Around this tangle are a group of irregular spots floating like blown-up molecular particles. Bodily shapes resembling thighs or genitalia fade into washes of vivid color, resisting my attempts to identify them. Even lines can’t be followed in their entirety, their paths colliding with words or seams on the painting’s surface. Everything is negotiable.
The paintings in To A Portrait are in a constant state of flux; they do not settle. Whether it’s through exploring a sexual encounter, an inner revelation, or the daily experience of negotiating one’s body with others, Collins-Fernández finds beauty in the attempt to harmonize an abundance of emotion and thought. By doing so, she gives us a chance to learn from the overflow, not prescribing a stable image of beauty, but rather something enigmatic and on the move. It’s a much-needed permissiveness to think and see beyond the need for control.