Lucia Laguna, Estúdio no. 52 (Studio no. 52), 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas, 70 7⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

Lucia Laguna, Estúdio no. 52 (Studio no. 52), 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas, 70 7⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

Lucia Laguna

The Brazilian painter Lucia Laguna was once a language teacher. She brings her knowledge of linguistics to the practice of painting, developing the medium’s discursive potential. Her studio, tucked into the hills above Rio de Janeiro, is home to the visual lexicon she deploys in her paintings, her dictionary of images. Laguna has developed a form of conversational collaboration with her studio assistants. Following discussions of subject and color, her collaborators paint the first layer of each small- or large-scale oil or acrylic canvas so that Laguna may formally reply. Davi Baltar and Claudio Tobinaga, among others, worked with Laguna on the pieces she presented in her first exhibition in France.

Of the ten large-format paintings that were shown here, three were concerned with the space of the artist’s studio: Estúdio nos. 51, 52, and 53, all 2018. Bands of powdery yellow paint that edge the frame of the canvas in Estúdio no. 51 suggest the enclosure of Laguna’s atelier. These yellow stripes multiply in the work’s upper section, forming a grid-like screen over a small expanse of sky blue where forms reminiscent of feathers, ferns, and pears appear to float above the matrix. Elsewhere, fragments of blue-and-white porcelain patterns emerge among leafy green shapes and narrow drips of paint. Laguna’s method of working conversationally with her assistants can be compared to the way a teacher might guide the work of a student at the blackboard. Another window to the world, the humble surface is a palimpsest of proposition and correction.

Also on view here, Laguna’s garden Jardim no. 42, 2018, and her landscapes Paisagem no. 76, 2014–18, and Paisagem nos. 106, 107, 108, 110, and 111, all 2018, are based on the natural environment outside her work space, as well as on the life she leads and has led outside of her profession as a painter. Paisagem no. 108, whose vertical format recalls that of French windows, is saturated with rich sandy tones and layered with rootlike strokes of browns, reds, and greens. On this surface, Laguna used masking tape to create neat, evenly spaced lines beneath a rust-red parallelogram. The flat geometry slides toward narrative: One imagines a single-story schoolhouse viewed from
a distance.

Laguna produced six small-format paintings, Pequenos formatos no. 100, 2016, and nos. 106, 108, 109, 111, 112, all 2018, with the leftover paint prepared for larger works. Pequenos formatos no. 112, nearly square, bursts with rays of brilliant orange that arc across heavier bands of green and blue. The dynamic brushstrokes express movement and life in what could have otherwise been discarded. Seven drawings, Desenho nos. 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 19, and 21, all 2016, were likewise results of Laguna’s habit of salvage. In these works, she reused the tape that marked contours in her larger paintings, allowing new shapes to emerge. In Desenho no. 10, scraps of tape coated with swirls of yellow and green paint conjure a bird poised to take flight.

This exhibition’s title was a phrase (No Bird, No Insect, Leaf, Bubble or Branch . . . Nothing Escapes the Trap of the Gaze) repeated twice: first in Portuguese, and again in French: “Nem pássaro ou inseto, folha, bolha e galho . . . Nada escapa à armadilha do olhar. (Ni oiseau ni insecte, feuille, bulle ou branche . . . Rien n’échappe au piège du regard).” The repetition and translation echo the call-and-response of Laguna’s canvases. The words, like a short poem, express the power of observation, the visual listening that must happen in painting, and the aural listening that occurs in conversation and in the classroom.