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Irma Blank “Life Line” at P420, Bologna

by Giovanna Manzotti

 

Describing Irma Blank’s latest oil paintings, an Italian art critic and tireless curator said: “The signs, colors and intricate articulation of her pages and canvases, always the same and always different, are forced into movements, fluctuations, stops and pauses that have the severity and at the same time the arbitrariness of ceremony.”1

It was 1992 when Lea Vergine wrote these words for a show at PAC, in Milan. But considering Blank’s current artistic practice—in terms of both sensibility and attitude toward searching for a silent aesthetic dimension closely related to the idea of ritual process—it seems like little has changed. Precision and stable tension of the gesture; purity and repetition of an obsessive rhythm in the form of primordial and pre-linguistic sign—the so-called ur-formDiscipline and perseverance in the manner of observing and contemplating reality, as in a ceremonial setting. Focus on the void (or, rather, the nothing) and a capacity to reveal a strong sense of presence through absence. Concentration and innate inclination toward controlling and registering sensations in everyday little occurrences. These time-honed skills—which have belonged to the artist’s vocabulary since the very beginning of her career—are clearly traceable in Life Line, her current solo show at P420.

After Senza Parole (2013), which included works form the Eigenschriften cycle (late 1960s) to the more recent Avant-testo and Hyper-Texts (late 1990s), this exhibition explores in an organic and coherent way a specific moment in Blank’s production (from the early 1980s to the 1990s) where the gesture of writing—strongly synchronized with bodily process—is characterized by the presence of an even more abstract sign, implicitly engaged with time.

With the phase of the Radical Writings, Blank examines the potentiality of a brush’s extensive sign, in a one-way movement that starts from herself and moves toward other counterparts. Talking about this cycle, she has said: “Each work has a beginning and an end, that is, the margin dictated by the surface. I always write from left to right. Then, when I have two ‘pages’. I turn a canvas, so the color blends, to have the shadow at the centre. Each work is one page of the total book.”2

Here the manifestation of the artist’s corporeal gesture of writing has its own specific frequency, corresponding to the natural act of einatmen (inhalation) and ausatmen (exhalation). It takes a bodily form, inevitably retraced by the line. That’s why she paints “in one breath,” as Luca Cerizza underlined in a text for the previous show. That’s why the relation between sign, surface, and body is inextricably conceived in a continuous flow in and with time. That’s why, continued Cerizza, “writing is breathing, panting is breathing, working is living.”3

In this universe, the use of colors has a physical and spiritual dimension, opening up to a linear horizon that accommodates, in a potential metaphorical way, the sound of the artist’s working tools and of her breathing. In a recent interview, Blank addressed the theme succinctly: “Two colors dominate: pink, but above all blue. Pink is the color of individuation, orientation, analysis, and expectation. The blue came along, decisive, authoritative. It is the color of ink, of infinity, of utopia.”4

And Life Line, in its balanced variation between the empty spaces of the gallery and the thick encounter with different types of surfaces, follows—like a faithful mirror—the path of these two chromatic periods. The five artworks on display in the first room belong to the years 1983–87. They are three acrylics on canvas (two are diptychs), one acrylic on parchment-like paper, and one watercolor on cardstock. They are a genuine expression of the first phase of the Radical Writings, influenced by the use of a rose-violet tone and marked by pictorial inscriptions.

The second room embraces a series of seven blue tone panels (oil and acrylic on board, never shown before) lined up on the right-hand wall. They are more than two meters high and, looking at the title—Gesetzafel (1993)—one notes that they have a sort of spiritual implication, due to their reference to the Tables of the Law. As a counterbalance to this sublime cycle of Radical Writings, a unique series of oils on transparent paper stands out on the opposite wall. Radical Writings, One Way (1991) comprises twenty-five horizontal pages in which the surface is touched by a nonstop brush-point sign, from left to right: a gesture that proceeds breath after breath, in a synchronic flow of tone-down blue scale. As Lea Vergine noticed, again: “Her tones are more than background-colors suggestions: they are space-pulsation and desire.” And each stroke of color, as a real language, is a “microcosm of human awareness.”5

 

[1] Lea Vergine, “Blue Carnac,” in Irma blank. Blue Carnac e storie simili, exh. cat. (Milan: Leonardo-De Luca Editori, 1992)
[2] Luca Lo Pinto, “Blank Conversation,” in Irma Blank: Breath Paintings, exh. cat. (Rome: CURA.BOOKS, 2015)
[3] Luca Cerizza in Irma Blank. Senza Parole, exh. cat. (Bologna: P420, 2013)
[4] From an interview between Alfredo Cramerotti and the artist, October 2015
[5] Lea Vergine, “Blue Carnac.”

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