The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue

Elizabeth Ibarra

Elizabeth Ibarra, <em>“Let There Be Light” (the sun)</em>, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Rental Gallery.
Elizabeth Ibarra, “Let There Be Light” (the sun), 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Rental Gallery.

On View
Rental Gallery
June 8 – 30, 2020
East Hampton, NY

Ibarra is a Mexican artist from Guadalajara, Jalisco, who lives in Los Angeles, and this is her first exhibition on the East Coast. Joel Mesler, whose gallery seeks to make connections between the Southern California and New York arts scenes, came across her works at the pop-up Newsstand Project in LA at the end of 2019. In LA there was both flatwork and some sculptures, but here the display consists of 21 paintings that range in size from 14 by 10 inch watercolors on paper to one 4-foot tall acrylic on canvas, titled “Let There Be Light” (the sun) (2020).

The gallery describes Ibarra’s paintings as “scenes of life beyond Earth,” and the titles consistently describe heavenly bodies: the Moon, the Sun, Mars, meteors, black holes, and, at a lower altitude, one lovely acrylic work titled Bird at the Rose Hour (2019). In this last work, Ibarra also incorporates cold wax and oil into the acrylic mix, using the former to create smudged and encrusted effects. There does not seem to be anything traditionally Mexican in Ibarra’s iconography, but her pictures do bear a general resemblance to the work of the Generación de la Ruptura. Consider, for example, the hovering forms and interstellar backgrounds in the post-World War II paintings of Gustavo Arias Murueta or José García Ocejo, both of whom died last year. Ibarra’s planetary and poetic imagery also seems a response to the personal lexicon of fantastic forms familiar in the work of Joan Miró and Louise Bourgeois.

Elizabeth Ibarra, <em>Bird at the Rose Hour</em>, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Rental Gallery.
Elizabeth Ibarra, Bird at the Rose Hour, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Rental Gallery.

However, Ibarra was never subjected to formal art instruction, and she has developed her own compelling technique and cosmology. She seeks connection through images that are straightforward in composition, and often delicately colored, sometimes with luminescent watercolor—pearl essence with crushed mica in it. At the entrance, the comparatively grand “Let There Be Light” (the sun) launches the display with an expansive and quivering burst of white and yellow light, as if a burning J.M.W. Turner detail of the sun grew to encompass an entire canvas. The title implies some kind of spirituality, and the golden aura recalls Henry Ossawa Tanner’s peerless Annunciation from 1898 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in which Gabriel appears to Mary as a shockingly disembodied glow. However, there is the suggestion of a figure in Ibarra’s picture: a spindly, tall, double-stick form with a solid mustard-colored head that bears twin drooping horns and the outline of a breast and nipple along its right side. The work is signed and dated at the upper left in simple print, as a muralist or sidewalk artist might do.

Elizabeth Ibarra, <em>Untitled (red figure)</em>, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Rental Gallery.
Elizabeth Ibarra, Untitled (red figure), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Rental Gallery.

Related personages appear in many of the pictures. In the emphatic Untitled (red figure) (2019) the drooping horns have become a formidable scarlet crown and the character strides from right to left across the canvas. Slashes of red and yellow against a tenebrist background read as weaponry or flames, and the figure becomes a martian mélange of Don Quixote, Hellboy, and Rock Art anthropomorphs from the American Southwest. But in its combination of cold wax, a dry textured surface, and the supernatural, Ibarra’s image of this crimson being invokes the English Romantic artist William Blake’s tempera paintings and his own personal conception of the divine. The legacy of Romanticism also comes to the fore in the three “self-portraits” in the display, which introduce a personal content into Ibarra’s celestial pantheon.

This was my first live experience of art since a now-treasured afternoon at the Richter show at the Met Breuer on March 11. Ibarra’s twirling satellites were suitably elegant markers of reentry to the practice of aesthetic delectation, a needed sustenance, an affirmation of existence. This was reflected in the poetry, written by the artist about her images, that accompanied the show:

“Can I let them stand alone
with their own self,
like planets dancing
out there?

Can I let them be your witness,
my witness
that we were both someday,


Jason Rosenfeld

Jason Rosenfeld Ph.D., is Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College. He was co-curator of the exhibitions John Everett Millais (Tate Britain, Van Gogh Museum), Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (Tate Britain and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), and River Crossings (Olana and Cedar Grove, Hudson and Catskill, New York). He is a Senior Writer and Editor-at-Large for the Brooklyn Rail. 


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues