Angela de la Cruz

Wilkinson Gallery

Since 1994, the London-based Spanish artist Angela de la Cruz has been making what she modestly calls “everyday paintings.” Her basic technique is simple. To begin with, she makes a blank, monochrome abstract painting in a conventional way, applying oil paint to stretched canvas. But having created an impeccable surface and shape, she then puts them through some grueling paces, distressing and manipulating the painting in a variety of ways. Seeing a group of de la Cruz’s paintings is like following a tragicomic abstract version of the Stations of the Cross. Let’s call it Stations of the Canvas.

Dislocated Painting VII (Red), 2001, is a blood-colored, squarish work mounted on a deep stretcher. But the canvas has been horizontally torn at the bottom left and the stretcher broken. The work was displayed in the gallery office, hung quite low on the wall. One of the most beguiling things about de la Cruz’s work is the way in which it teases the viewer about the status of the artwork. Seeing this painting surrounded and partially blocked by office furniture. You couldn’t be sure whether it had been deliberately vandalized or accidentally biffed. Is it an abused masterpiece awaiting restoration or yesterday’s eye candy waiting to be trashed?

Loose Fit XI (Large/White), 2001, and Stuck, 2001, are variations on the theme of the misfitting canvas. The former is part of a series in which shinily painted canvases are crudely remounted on stretchers that are much too small. They swell and sag in a bathetic way that recalls Claes Oldenburg’s soft wall pieces and John Chamberlain’s crushed car bodies. Stuck is a large blackish-blue canvas, rather like a large garbage-can liner or body bag, that has been wedged into a doorway, blocking it off. We could be at the scene of a crime.

Two floor pieces incorporate items of furniture. Still Life (Table), 2000, features a side table that has been pushed through the back of a stretcher covered with an outsized dark blue canvas. It’s a variation on the Duchampian idea of using a Rembrandt as an ironing board, though here the painting has become predatory and seems to be swallowing the table up. Shelf, 2001, is a red metal bookcase with three shelves that has become embroiled with a black canvas: Their contortions are catastrophically erotic.

There’s been an awful lot of painting-about-painting lately, most of it dryly academic. What makes de la Cruz’s work more than just another tired autopsy following the supposed death of painting is the sheer zest and range of her visual imagination. Each painting is given a distinctive character and situation. Her use of painting as a motif is comparable to Max Klinger’s deployment of a woman’s glove in his series of etchings “Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove,” 1881. In the Symbolist artist’s dreams the white glove undergoes a succession of extraordinary metamorphoses. De la Cruz dreams about monochrome paintings.

James Hall