LOS ANGELES — Luz Carabaño’s tiny paintings need room to breathe. Their swirling surfaces, evoking nebulae, swamps, or glazed confections, seem to be incubating in their skewed canvases. Soon, it feels, the scenes will burst from their frames and overtake their blank surroundings.
Encuentros (encounters) at Hannah Hoffman Gallery is heavy with possibility. The exhibition title foreshadows the physical experience of studying Carabaño’s small paintings (all 2023), which can be as narrow as three and one-quarter inches tall, as in “vuelo,” a slim work that looks like a minty block of fudge, with its glossy surface and uneven ridges. Yet the title also proposes that these scenes are brief encounters with a latent world. The artist’s rippling, organic shapes curve into ethereal portals that feel like they could expand and spill over their canvas, consuming the gallery at any moment, transporting admirers into another dimension.
Carabaño works in oils on custom-made canvases, which are formed into imperfect blocks and rectangles that look like they were drawn freehand before assuming their three-dimensional structure. Some of these irregular frames match the gallery’s preserved architecture, such as “ojo rojo,” a white painting with red streaks that reminded me of peppermint candies. The canvas tilts upward on each end and collapses towards the middle, a loose approximation of a chevron. The shape is similar to a large hole in the gallery’s drywall, which reveals white brick from the ancient building’s exterior.
The surfaces are unusually flat for oil painting, which makes them blend into bleed into their surroundings. They look as if Carabaño sands them down, removing any bumps or texture left by the paintbrush. Lines are blurry and borders amorphous, but they are precisely laid down to suggest spiderwebs (“web”) or a monstera leaf (“jardim”). Carabaño also lets the paint delicately spill over the sides of the canvas. In “holograma,” a purple block with energetic gray and green lines, the wraparound effect is especially subtle, yet the painting appears faded against the wall, ready to spread and melt into the drywall.
Carabaño’s preoccupation with portals comes through in two flat aluminum sculptures, which are colossal compared to most of the paintings. “Juego del suelo” and “segundo juego del suelo” — their titles roughly translate to “floor games,” a term to describe playground layouts for hopscotch or foursquare — are placed on the ground, seemingly ready to swallow any bystander who happens to step into their silver surfaces. These playful pieces, despite their cold, metal forms, evoke lava. Avoid stepping on them, or you’ll be thrust into the Earth’s core.
Despite favoring miniature paintings, Carabaño knows how to maximize her environment. With jagged canvases, organic gestures, and delicate details, she creates work that alludes to larger worlds. A close encounter with a couple small, whirling streaks of green can bring the entirety of the cosmos to our imagination.
Luz Carabaño: encuentros continues at Hannah Hoffman Gallery (2504 West 7th Street, Suite C, MacArthur Park, Los Angeles) through October 21. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.