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Issue 226

Elisa Barrera Gives the Gift of Flowers

The artist's stripped back solo exhibition at Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf, imbues generic scenes with personality

BY Moritz Scheper in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 21 FEB 22

Two salient titbits upfront: violet is the only colour in the spectrum to be named after a flower; and spolvero is a renaissance technique for transferring fresco designs onto the wall by perforating the outlines of preliminary drawings then dusting them with powdered charcoal. These two details are necessary to decipher Elisa Barrera’s cleverly composed show at Lucas Hirsch, ‘Daybreak’, in which faint wall drawings – the powder sits loosely on the wall and is disturbed by the faintest breeze – depict a generic interior scene of a kitchen table with a view out of a window, a discarded hairdryer and a couch (Untitled, all works 2021). On top of this, in loose sequence, hang seven wooden panels featuring flowers and foliage, ranging from the rough pencil sketches of Evergreen and Infestante to the elaborately layered violets of a marsh marigold in Glance I.

Elisa Barrera, ‘Daybreak’, 2021, exhibition view, Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: the artist and Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf

While there might initially appear to be a disconnect between the wall drawings and the panels – Glance I, for instance, hangs incongruously in the middle of the sofa from Untitledlike red for Jutta Koether and green for Brook Hsu, in Barrera’s work the colour violet is the synthesis within which these disparate elements can co-exist. From the fuzzy contours of the spolvero drawings, Barrera’s lines steadily solidify in her paintings on wood. Simultaneously, there is an increase in the saturation of the violet – the colour used by the Impressionists to paint light and air. So, is Barrera’s focus on the dissolution of form? Perhaps. In any case, the show contrasts art as a communal asset with art as a private, portable medium. Interestingly, the two are not played off against one another; rather, they open up the same imaginary space where light and air reveal themselves as iridescent particles in an amalgam from the history of Mediterranean painting.

Elisa Barrera, Amica, 2021, oil on wooden plate, 30 × 40 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf

Art-historical knowledge can be used to paper over a lack of artistic rigour, but this does not apply in Barrera’s case. Looking at Amica, which depicts two pansies, it is evident that she is also tapping into the contemporary significance of violet. Here, unlike in the other panels, the dominant hue is a dark purple that only occasionally leans towards violet, thereby emphasizing the latter’s inner luminosity. Coupled with the works’ screen-like format, this shimmer recalls the digital context in which we now encounter violet: website and app design. As a luminous colour, it lends itself to everything that is viewed on glowing screens. In addition to the Impressionist reference, this second connotation permits a further reading in which the potentially disparate motifs of the mural and the panels align.

Elisa Barrera, ‘Daybreak’, 2021, exhibition view, Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: the artist and Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf

While depictions of interiors and flowers are often accompanied by an aura of sentimentality or nostalgia, Barrera’s works have a slight froideur to them. The subjects of these images might be deemed generic, but there is nothing soulless about the artist’s attempt to investigate what lies beneath. Sure, she seems to say, young people have the same IKEA chairs and wavy Krabb mirror that feature in the mural, but that doesn’t mean that their homes play host to generic existences. Just as flowers are simultaneously unique specimens yet pertain to a genus. Perhaps the true strength of Barrera’s exhibition lies in the way she imbues the generic with so much personality, so that viewers sense hints of intimacy without always being able to put a finger on them. Not unlike Paul Cézanne’s shimmering air around Mont Sainte-Victoire (1904), thanks to several hues of violet.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Elisa Barrera’s ‘Daybreak’ is on view at Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf, until 25 February 2022.  

Main image: Elisa Barrera, Untitled, 2021, coal and pigments, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Lucas Hirsch, Dusseldorf