Menchu Lamas

Galería Buades y Fundación Valdecilla

The work of Menchu Lamas is a good example of how abstraction has evolved toward figuration in a coherent way, without an abrupt break. The figures in her paintings fill the picture plane; they are not merely fitted into a formal structure but themselves comprise that structure, providing heavy vertical, diagonal, horizontal, and curved shapes which give the painting its fundamental directional lines. This is a figuration bent on structural problems, but Lamas also skillfully introduces ambiguity through the selection of her thematic repertory.

In these two shows, featuring large works, Lamas investigated a figure that seems a hybrid of man and animal. Its raised, tubular body, sometimes reptilian or piscine, sometimes possessed of an enigmatic fox’s or cat’s head, generally imposes the dominant vertical in the painting, and horizontally extends its limbs—especially the enormous hands—to wrap them around another form. The pairing of elements in these erect compositions is not new for Lamas; it is already present in the “Mesas de Planchar” (Ironing boards) series of 1980, which was among the artist’s first figurative attempts, but there the two shapes tended to be crossed diagonals, like the legs of an ironing board. Since then the use of a formal pair, alike and unlike, has been almost constant—two fish, two serpents—except for a parenthesis of fans and fish in 1981, in which the forms traversed the paintings singly.

An air of mystery pervades this primitive iconography, with its creatures seemingly from legend and nature. Their physical distortions prevent any facile identification with them; the size of their hands suggests that they register sensation primarily through touch. Their shapes have an ascending rhythm, while the forms they hold, though often also vertical, impose a descending one. Color is applied in large, clearly demarcated areas, and with a predominantly sharp, clean palette, even when layers beneath show through.

Lamas is a prominent member of the Galician artists’ group “Atlántica,” an important element in the current revitalization of Galician art, several of whose members, including Lamas, now live in Madrid. The city does not seem to have estranged her from her roots in a region endowed with a rich oral and literary tradition going back to the Celtic past; instead, the fusion of her language of native idiosyncracies with other, more far-reaching resonances, together with her innate gift for composition and color, make her among the most promising of the young Spanish painters.

Aurora García

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah.