Por Ricardo Sarco Lira

“(…) the art of all times has always offered (…) an invaluable story of how each culture saw itself in relation to its environment (…)”

– José Albelda, “Territories, roads and paths”

Theoretical background

As well as with science, the art of all times has tried to leave a testimony of the relationship of man with his environment; it is a manner or path to understand and assimilate the surroundings of the human beings, the spaces where they live and where they give origin to their culture. The landscape is a way in which the creators have given form to nature, passing first through a series of cultural filters and mathematical order. Europe has, as well as the antique Asian civilizations, a long tradition in landscaping: their lands and the vegetation that shelters or repeals them has been categorically tamed and reduced, has been transformed into an image or delimited, separated from civilization. Historically, Latin America younger as a continent, has a different view; so expressed by Alejo Carpentier in his speech The baroque and the wonderfully real (1975):

“There is a short phrase of Goethe in his old age, written to a friend (…) which says: . I could never have written this in America, where our nature is untamed, like our history (…)”

Thus is the American history associated (more precisely the Latin American) with the same savage and exuberant character of its nature, as if in some manner the first tries or is obliged to reflect the image of the second. The history of men and their civilizations understood through their surroundings, not the opposite. Therefore, this crossing allows us to study or try to undertake culture, our culture, from the understanding of our landscape as an anthropological fact. Further on, Carpentier tells us that to describe or create on paper a nature so rich and that seems to overflow and devour everything that surrounds it, our art and our literature are essentially baroque styles, where the accumulation of images, rhetorical games and comparisons and hybridizations are found every day.

The plastic work of Ana Vanessa Urvina: origin of Hard Nature

Precisely, the visual accumulation and barroquism of the shapes, united to a notion of chaos and confusion are the ambits from which Urvina has been working from her artistic residence Advanced Intensive Painting 2015, offered by Columbia University, United States, during the year 2015. Nevertheless, the link of her work with nature, comes from her own initiation: animal figures tightly linked with infants abound in her plastic work and occupy all the spaces either in drawings, paintings or as toys used as objects found.

The present work of Urvina is formed by a series of medium, small and large format paintings, done in acrylic and acrylic markers over canvas and paper.

After her stay in the United States, and as a consequence of her work, the paintings of Urvina are turning more “baroque”: the proliferating nucleuses guide the attention of the spectator across all the canvas, the protagonism of a form or figure over the others gives way to a painting where all the elements seem to find each other in a continuous state of tension, over imposing each other. The appearance that they offer is of a chaotic reality; this must not be understood as an absence of order, but, more as an order-other which responds to their own composition norms.
The Greeks understood the notion of chaos (from the Latin chaos, and the latter from the Greek ӽáoç cháos; fittingly “opening”, “hole”) as a sort of well or darkness where all the elements were there in their essence, mixed, shapeless, fused; from this primitive state the earth and the first deities were created, the world arises inhabited subsequently by man. This notion of chaos seems to be the one that is present in Urvina´s work, as a cohesive space, far from the daily order where the forms are united, cultivation field and seed of all the imaginable possibilities.

The proliferation in Urvina´s paintings is visible in An open sea (El Hatillo 2015), where she works with images of organic origin, in this case with fish and other beings linked with the sea. In the present works these aquatic forms are mixed with flowers, leaves and vines within a more jungle type space which is the thread that connects the pieces. As in the classic Greek chaos thought, on these canvases the land and sub-aquatic gardens are one and the same: to distinguish the botanical forms of said appearance, that is, beasts or marine animals is an impossible task, as if in some way, in this shapeless chaos which contains all the possibilities of forms and orders, the sub-aquatic and land gardens inhabit together. But, “ What is a garden? “, Fabio Morábito says,

“(…) Because, even if we see it, everything is a garden.
A forest is a mosaic of gardens
that are tenuously knotted,
the same as in the deepest part of a garden
one fights span by span.
Because, even if we see it, everything is an undergrowth of weeds,
confusion, opportunism (…)”

The search of Urvina in the natural-chaotic has a lot to do with the daily life of the Venezuelan that lives in the cities, especially in Caracas, its capital. Existences that thrive towards the speed and the uninterrupted change of a city, resonant contamination, traffic jams, lines and spaces full of bodies in continuous movement in the center of particularly green cities, as inserted in the middle of an untamed, rich and exorbitant nature. Nevertheless, lives full of themselves, functional and conditioned for these conditions; lives in apparent disorder, that answer from the deepest of their bases to a unique echo-system whose only inclination to violence is similar to the one of nature in its most savage state.

Tropic Nature

“Deep inside every place and every feeling, there is always a garden.”

Olga Orozco.

Gardens that make you feel restless

Gardens do not have a practical functionality; they are no orchards. They are spaces for beauty and contemplation, and cultures cannot exist without them: without plant identities through which we can describe, and talk about, the world. From the neatly laid-out lines of the Japanese ones to the humid shadows cast in the Arab ones, from the terraces inhabited by statues in the Italian ones, to the lakes and the English pavilions, or the geometric design of the French ones, gardens have accompanied us since those hanging wonders of Babylon. Paradise, we should recall, was a garden… not only because of its beauty, but because in a garden nature is ordered, tamed, and confined. From time to time a snake disrupts the scenery and proposes trying forbidden fruit tearing naivety and order down.

And then, there are the tropical gardens, which are among the most difficult ones to build and maintain. They need special climatic conditions and very wet soils, and they also tend to have lush vegetation. As everything in the Tropics their true essence is spreading beyond boundaries, which opposes the notion of the garden as an ordered nature. Embracing this contradiction, Ana Vanessa Urvina paints her Wild Vegetation Entities: Beautiful baroque plant monsters, whose color flecks are barely contained within the lines. These entities unfold weightlessly towards the spectator and seem to stick out from the canvas: A cannibalistic jungle, a participating consciousness, a religious rhythm[1].

In Ana Vanessa Urvina’s pieces there is neither beginning nor end. The color flecks within her pieces devour, become swarms, take the form of coexisting opposites… conveying primal chaos. These color flecks overlap and crush others in their struggle to exist. They form figures that look like flowers, but at a closer look they can become sharks, faces, fish, elephants, or hedgehogs… because the Tropics are grotesque, and unprecedented and outrageous shapes cross paths in the grotesque. In the background: the night, the darkness, the depth, the loss of reason, and the contour. Dionysian gardens, possessed… in ecstasy. Small tropical, fertile cosmogonies that can also be the beginning of suffocation. Spaces where life and death go hand in hand. A whirlwind that, from Venezuela to Australia, the tropical garden – pale brother of the forest and the jungle – tries to contain.

But the Tropics cannot be contained, not even when represented. These paintings are just metaphors, hints, of a nature and a reality in which paradise and hell coexist. As the habitat that accompanies it, life in the Tropics is a space with its own order in which the knowledge of both logos and body intersect. And this artwork is nothing but the child of this hybridization. It is also hybrid because both figurative and abstract art meet in it; because they might look decorative but at the same time they make you feel restless. Gardens, where we will find snakes, where we will try forbidden fruit, where we will put an end to naivety. Gardens of initiation, natures that are nothing but a mystery in which painting is, for Ana Vanessa Urvina, a ritual performance.

Psycho-tropic Tropics

The Tropics can be nothing but baroque. The Tropics mean curves.

No, that is not true, the Baroque made a home out of the Tropics. The tropics are an antonym of horror vacui. Here every space is filled; there is no room for Zen.

No, that is not true, there is a Sahelian Tropic. An African aridity; the thickness of the sand everywhere that also fills every space. The brightness of the moon on the yellow silk of the desert. In 2017 the dust of the Sahara prevented the formation of cyclones in the Atlantic. Dry air reduces the size of raindrops. The jungle feeds on nutrients that the dust brings, which come from remains of long-ago dead organisms. Death that nourishes life; Tropics that dance unaware of the insignificance of our species.

A hand paints the Tropics on a canvas, and an instant later the Tropics devour each stroke. The snake in Paradise also bit its tail. A hand paints the Tropics on a canvas, and the Tropics devour the canvas, and the canvas devours the Tropics. Both the Tropics and the canvas devour the painter, and they all blend in a Wild Vegetation Structure.

The Tropics are surreal. No, it’s magical realism. No, it’s ‘the magic in the real’. No one agrees on a term; it turns out impossible to define. Snail curve. A grain of sand mirror. Cancer and Capricorn.

The Tropics: A transverse plane in which the Earth’s revolution movement takes place. It is known as the Earth’s elliptical orbit. An ellipse: A flat, simple, closed curve. Columbus wanted to prove that this was round. Columbus knew that there was another Tropic, beyond the humid rainforests of Cathay and Cipango.

Here it rains all year round; it is hot the whole year. Sometimes snow falls in the desert. Geography says that it is the most exposed zone to the sun during the Earth’s revolution movement. Tropics of opposites.

The Tropics mean mosquitoes. Until the 1930s many maps referred to them as a malaria transmission area. Rain and fertility. The Tropics mean water-rich fruits. Mango, pineapple. “Who wants to buy tasty fruits? Cashew and quenepa fruits from straw-roofed huts?”, one can hear in a salsa song sung by Venezuelan musician Oscar D’León.

The Tropics mean droughts. Burning forests. Scratches of fire.

The Tropics mean colors. The very same colors that appear in paintings, and also in the houses of Salvador de Bahia, or the Philippines. These colors have to be bright; there is too much light in this place. But there are also huge shadows cast by trees. Only the Tropics give birth to carnivorous plants.

Only the feeling compared to a febrile seizure can explain this. Ana Vanessa paints feverish pictures; elevated temperatures that expand through the body of the canvas and provoke visions. In these visions we can see gardens like monstrous filigrees, like altars of Mexican ultra-baroque cathedrals. In their colors we revere an inhospitable, hard, seductive and also murderous nature.

From the Tropics we live, in the Tropics we live. They form our backbone. Wherever we go, they chase us. They make flowers grow in the Arctic, they melt snow. You find them in a corner of Norway, New York, Paris, Buenos Aires. They are a smell of spices, golden plantain slices dancing in the frying pan, a mysterious woman moving her hips in a particular way, a man laughing loudly in the early hours; a yellow round fruit out of place. They can be found in the oblique gaze of Asians, in the fleshy lips of people of African descent, in the coppery skins of Latinos. They are in the curare of an Amazonian arrow, poisonous plant extract. They stretch like a sandstorm or like those plants that devour abandoned places. They are a carpet of lianas and sand covering the roads of the world… covering these paintings.

Kelly Martínez-Grandal

In Miami, subtropical zone, 2017