I have known Victoria Civera for many years but seldom get to see her work because she mostly shows in Spain, where she spends at least half the year. So I was happy to be invited to her Manhattan studio to see her latest paintings before she shipped them to Spain, where she was having a large retrospective covering four decades at the Centro de Arte de Alcobendas, Madrid, opening at the end of November.
Since that afternoon, my mind has kept returning to two groups of paintings she showed me. Both were done on aluminum supports. One, collectively titled Serie Every Day (Every Day Series), consisted of vertical rectangles, while second, made up of tondos, was titled Serie Radial. Horizonte circulares (Radial Series. Circular Horizon), both groups dated 2017. While Civera has worked with a circle before, dating back to when she was a student in Spain, it took on another meaning in 1980, when she was preparing for a show while pregnant.
Painting on metal was something new for her. As she told the curator Javier Sánchez Martínez, one reason she chose a metal support was because it was simultaneously firm and fragile. When her young granddaughter enters the room, where Victoria and I are sitting and talking, I wonder if the child’s birth might have prompted the artist’s return to the circle. The circle’s form can be unforgiving, like time. One thinks of the tondos of Piet Mondrian and Leon Polk Smith, but few have tried to do much with this form.
I am struck by all the different ways that Civera both acknowledges the circular form while trying to occupy it. The paint ranges from thin washes to a tight, smooth skin to thick, grain-like brushstrokes. She divides the circle the way one might slice a cake or pizza, but the lines are off-center, and a dimensional element, evoking the side of the cake, activating the surface, as in “Horizonte circulares #5” (2017). In “Horizonte circulares #15,” she engages two perspectives simultaneously, one below the horizon line and one above. Sensitive to light, the circle becomes a way of keeping personal time without ever becoming anecdotal or telling a story. Rather, the paintings invite viewers to tell their own story. And yet, I could not help but continue to think that there was a connection between these paintings and Civera’a granddaughter, and that for the artist the circular support is a feminine form.
In the vertical rectangles she depicts a sharply edged form, made up of two or three colors, whose imagery shifts between a flat hook-like shape and an implied space — a road narrowing sharply as it rises part of the way up the surface, as seen in “Serie Every Day, 1” (2017). In “Serie Every Day, II” (2017), she restages Goya’s despair-filled painting “The Dog” (c.1820), which is one of the “Black Paintings.” Instead of Goya’s poor black dog lifting its snout above the edge of brown earth that takes up the lower part of the painting, the lower part of Civera’s canvas is painted flat black, with a diagonal horizon line slanting down from right to left. A pink form with a pale blue ellipse seems to be sliding down the incline. What a marvelous thing she has done: made a haunting painting mysterious again. This is what my memory returns to in that visit, Civera’s ability to infuse her forms with a mystery that is both hard-nosed and dream-like. They are abstract forms but feel palpable, like a name on the tip of my tongue, where it will stay. Meanwhile, their surfaces change with the ambient light. And as dusk falls, they gain another kind of meaning.