“Bête comme un peintre (“dumb as a painter”): it’s been leveled against painters for at least a century and, today more than ever, especially against those painters making beautiful, skilled, naturalistic work. That, to be sure, simply cannot be taken seriously. Contemporary art is only able to marry concept and canvas, it seems, through a certain depletion of referentiality, be it by deskilling, by pushing images close to the illegible, or by straining the indexical. So how to approach Ana Teresa Fernandez’s paintings: huge, lush, minutely detailed (one painting takes months to finish), and blatantly figurative? How to approach the concrete, unsparing verisimilitude of her work? “It’s important to me that what I paint really happened, that you can see that it is real,” she’s stated. All her painted work is based on documentation of actual performances, an ironic twist on “what you see is what you see” if you will, and an emphatic refusal of the mediated image. Fernandez’s works literally embody the arduous, sisyphean tasks of her performances: they give concrete form to a type of labor, women’s domestic labor, which is generally mere expenditure of energy, rote repetition without visible product.
Confronting Fernandez’s paintings can be awkward. Should be awkward. The in-your-face sexuality of her hyper-femme stage persona, a theatrical stilettoed amazon straddling ironing boards or writhing wet-haired across the floor, is not only a smart comment on the very particular but unspoken type of masculinity that characterizes much conceptual photography and performance documentation of the late 1960s and 1970s (think of those iconic images of a brooding Smithson in tight black jeans), it also points to the necessity of confronting an increasingly anodyne media culture. It’s commonplace by now to remark that our self-image is caught up in a circuitry of commodified desires, powered and sustained by an incessant stream of pleasurable images: “Every cigarette, every drink, every love affair echoes down a never-ending passageway of references—to advertisements, to television shows, to movies—to the point where we no longer know if we mimic or are mimicked,” critic Thomas Lawson once remarked. Things too real to deal with become digestible fantasy. Fernandez’s paintings heighten the awkwardness of the real, often to the level of discomfort, and temporarily snap you out of that palliative stupor. Awkward is good. Real is good.”
- Yasmine Van Pee ©2008