Erika Verzutti – Ex Gurus @ Andrew Kreps Gallery / March 3 to 31, 2018

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Erika Verzutti – Homeopatia, 2018 Bronze, oil and acrylic paint 40 3/16 x 32 11/16 x 2 3/4 in (102 x 83 x 7 cm) Unique edition of 3. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, Photo: Everton Ballardin

When I wrote the very first article for this website in December 2015, about Brazilian artist Erica Verzutti’s show at Alison Jacques London, I felt more inclined to refer to her as a painter than a sculptor. (Click here for the 2015 article) At the time I was struck by Verzutti’s use of bronze to create deceptively simple panels, any one of which could quite possibly have been produced with less effort in less permanent material. Added to the pleasant surprise of discovering that these panels were bronze was the willful irreverence the artist had shown towards that very medium by adding patches of acrylic paint here and there. The cheapening plastic dullness of acrylic served in this case only to strengthen the effect of bronze being used in such an unusual context, as a kind of surrogate for canvas. Verzutti’s confident handling of material, no small measure of humour, plus a gift for distilling complex questions of perception to produce irresistible objects of beauty, combined to deliver what I considered to be one of the best exhibitions of painting I had seen in recent years. And the question of whether Verzutti’s work is more painting than sculpture remains as delightfully infuriating in the artist’s most recent show – Ex Gurus – at Andrew Kreps as it was in her 2015 show in London.

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Erika Verzutti – Oblique Strategies, 2016 Papier-mâché and wax 21 1/16 x 26 x 3 1/2 in (53.5 x 66 x 9 cm) Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, Photo: Everton Ballardin

In Ex Gurus we see the same deft associations of material (bronze, paint, papier mâché, wax, clay, and stones) with subject matter – although the artist’s subject matter can often appear to operate in the service of the material. In Ex Gurus, as in Two Eyes Two Mouths – the title of her 2015 London show – I hesitate to refer to Verzutti’s conceptual material as subject matter but rather as a starting point. The concept is often a self-contained conceit on which the artist riffs with enviable ease with her physical material. One of the neatest examples from the 2015 show is a two-part painted bronze entitled The Dress. Two more or less identical bronze casts hang side by side, one gold, one black. The gold cast is streaked with white acrylic paint, the black cast streaked in its corresponding sections with blue. The identically distressed and chiselled surfaces of the bronzes mean that the streaks of paint look like a rubbing is being taken from two rocks. For anyone who remembers the visual paradox which was trending on social media at the time about a dress which appeared to two groups of viewers as alternately white and gold or black and blue, the spark of recognition and humour is immediate.

While the artist tells us that the subject matter of Ex Gurus is more personal – taking ideas from various “…immaterial things: astrology, homeopathy, feng shui, positive thinking.” and that the body of work in the exhibition “…started as a digression on synaesthesia, on the translation between senses.” – she has managed to maintain the same tight control over subjects with such potentially rampant humorous possibilities and created a series of superbly balanced works.

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Erika Verzutti Pilates, 2018 Bronze, oil and acrylic paint 48 x 40 3/16 x 4 3/4 in (122 x 102 x 12 cm) Edition 1 of 3, with 2 APs. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, Photo: Everton Ballardin

There is never too much attempted in any single piece. Where a bronze has been left unpainted, it is because to have added more to the surface would likely have suggested that the sculptural component of the work on its own was not strong enough. Conversely, where paint has been added, as in the neatly arranged depressions on the surface of Homeopatia, it is only because these brightly coloured additions sit in clear distinction to the base on which they rest. In this case the addition of painted elements is governed by the availability of areas on the bronze surface on which paint can rest without losing its essence as just that – paint.

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Installation view of Erika Verzutti – Ex Gurus. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, 2018. Photo: Dawn Blackman

And yet almost every visible aspect of the work speaks of sculpture and rough manipulation of material. Surfaces are pockmarked, slashed, gouged, and essentially duffed up. So, what is it about these panels that identifies them more as paintings than sculptures? And if we want to see them as painting entirely, then is it the evidence of a kind of crudely-worked clay form which has been manipulated just prior to the memorializing bronze casting stage which keeps dragging our thoughts back to sculpture, or is it simply the shock of the bronze itself?

A clue to the oscillating effect between painting and sculpture in Verzutti’s work lies in the relative segregation of all the individual elements of the work and their casual, but never contaminating, interaction. One of Verzutti’s talents is to be able to take otherwise irreconcilable components and distil them down to their essence so as to enable them to operate together. Sculpture here is represented by bronze, just as painting is invoked more than explored through the artist’s spare application of paint. And the third, and no more or less significant component – the conceptual spark – likewise lingers over the work as it develops physically, in the end becoming an intangible participant in the whole.

Ex Gurus at Andrew Kreps, New York

Two Eyes Two Mouths at Alison Jacques, London