Marta Marcé


To inaugurate its new second space in the House of St. Barnabas-in-Soho, an important eighteenth-century building on Soho Square, Riflemaker chose Marta Marcé’s “Diadem Paintings,” which the artist began last year while on a residency at Camden Arts Centre and completed in her studio in Barcelona. The unusual way the paintings were presented, emphasizing their merely temporary occupation of the space, underlined the potential incongruence between contemporary abstract painting and a Grade One–listed regency hall where nothing can be affixed to the wall: Two of the paintings, Flow 1 and Flow 2 (all works 2007), consist of panels laid out on the floor, while the remaining nine paintings were displayed leaning against the walls, either from ledges that are part of the period décor or else lifted off the floor on sawhorselike wooden stands. The mismatch worked perfectly: The resultant mix of laid-back informality and ceremonious embellishment suited Marcé’s casually formalist aesthetic to a tee.

The Catalonian painter, who now divides her time between Barcelona and London, has long cultivated an analogy between games and painting. At times she has made the connection representationally, in paintings that resemble game boards, but the comparison bears out most compellingly when she instead treats the process of painting as a sequence of “moves” bound by specific rules, albeit rules broad enough to allow for a certain degree of “play” within the structure. In the present instance, Marcé was inspired by the tangram, a Chinese puzzle that incorporates five triangles, a square, and a parallelogram. She employed a similar system of movable sections to make the two floor works, expanding the number of pieces from seven to nine. More important, she added simple curves, both concave and convex, to the original game’s strictly rectilinear vocabulary. The elements in Flow 1 are all monochromatic—either painted or covered with colored fabric—except for one that is covered with a diamond pattern; in Flow 2, the pieces, either painted a single color or not at all, have been overlaid with simple patterns of grids or parallel lines. Presumably, the configurations shown in the gallery are arbitrary, as the segments could have been combined in any number of ways. The artist speaks of “geometry as a live creature that constantly changes, each time giving us quite different random shapes and ideas that make up our real world.”

These combinations became the starting point for the wall-oriented works, eight single panels of diverse format and one diptych. The types of shapes found in the floorbound works, with their distinctive combinations of straight lines and curves, are here elaborately concatenated, sometimes filling up the whole panel but more often silhouetted against a colored surround. Thus the anticompositional strategy embodied in the floor works became a compositional source for the paintings, whose mood is a curious mix of exuberance and restraint. They are painted with thin, washy colors, mostly not too bright—even, strangely enough, when they border on the fluorescent. Marcé seems to avoid highly active optical combinations or the drama of Hans Hofmann–esque push-and-pull; her use of color is unruffled. As a result, one senses in these paintings an energy that is absorbed, yet in some way constrained. The game being played here is really, after all, a form of solitaire—which always has something melancholy about it. In this, the floor pieces are rather different: With their movable segments, they evoke a potential collaboration with the work’s receiver; they bring out the social side that complements the solitude of the artist’s studio work.

Barry Schwabsky