Artist to Col­lect: Marta Pen­ter

Arabella - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - writ­ten by Gary Michael Dault

The Si­lence at the Cen­tre

writ­ten by Gary Michael Dault

For Brazil­ian painter Marta Pen­ter, si­lence it­self is the great sub­ject. "In the midst of tur­moil," she has writ­ten, "lies si­lence. That is what I en­counter, that is what I pho­to­graph, that is what I paint." Our world is in­escapably a world of crowds, of peo­ple in teem­ing mul­ti­tudes. "All of them may be there," says Pen­ter, "all of them oc­cu­py­ing the same place, but each one of them [ex­ists] within his or her own pri­vate and silent uni­verse." Ev­ery­one lives, for bet­ter or worse, within what poet W.H. Au­den once called "the cell of him­self." The sub­jects that fill Pen­ter’s acutely ob­served, large but si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­ti­mate paint­ings oc­cupy so­cial space – the spa­ces of cafes, busy side­walks, beaches, packed sub­way sta­tions. Al­though her sub­jects are fre­quently jos­tled to­gether and al­most claus­tro­pho­bi­cally jux­ta­posed, they never be­come parts of a char­ac­ter­less mass. In­deed, in her paint­ings Pen­ter is al­ways won­der­fully at­ten­tive to the many so­cial, in­di­vid­ual cues of dress, hair­style, pos­ture and fa­cial ex­pres­sion that iden­tify

each be­ing, defin­ing the in­tegri­ties of The Other. Th­ese are the same cues that help us ne­go­ti­ate our own way through the realm of oth­ers, and to carve out vi­able space there for our own bod­ies and minds. Es­sen­tially, Pen­ter shows us peo­ple co-ex­ist­ing, per­form­ing their par­tic­u­lar ver­sions of the self. All in­hab­it­ing unique lives of their own as they move through the phys­i­cal world at large. In terms of tech­nique, Marta Pen­ter is a highly ef­fec­tive colourist. Her fre­quent use of an al­most mono­chrome pal­ette, her grounds of­ten suf­fused with a pure bone-white, lends her can­vases of grouped fig­ures a strange, dream­like qual­ity. Her vir­tu­oso em­ploy­ment of real­ist tech­niques gen­er­ates an ef­fect, graph­i­cally speak­ing, that is not un­like the at­mos­pheres of im­me­di­acy and ex­ac­ti­tude con­ven­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with pho­tog­ra­phy. What mil­i­tates, in the end, against the pho­to­graphic idea is her prac­tice of in­sert­ing or high­light­ing cer­tain fig­ures or mo­ments of sig­nif­i­cance within the paint­ings with a bright sap­phire blue – in­tro­duced into her work, she says, by the ex­pe­ri­ence of sketch­ing one day in the park with that most ab­ject of ex­pres­sive tools, a blue ball­point pen. If the in­ter­rupted monochromism of Pen­ter’s paint­ing (The Shock of the Blue) seems some­times to hover above the pho­to­graphic, the vast size at which she prefers to work can equally cite the epic scale of film as a for­mal source. Big­ness, she main­tains, al­lows her to im­merse the viewer fully into the mise-en-scene of each paint­ing. Given the lar­ge­ness of her paint­ings, she is able, al­most pal­pa­bly, to en­ter her cho­sen so­cial

space, shoul­der her way through the ruckus to the sub­ject she has her eye on, and iso­late it (in blue), thus pro­vid­ing an al­most voyeuris­ti­cally acute sense of in­ti­macy-within-im­men­sity with its com­plex­i­ties and en­er­gies. Pen­ter says that as she works, she iden­ti­fies so closely with her sub­jects that she al­most be­comes one with them: "When­ever I rep­re­sent a knit­ted blouse," she says, "it feels as if the brushes are the knit­ting nee­dles them­selves; it is as if I am knit­ting just such a fab­ric my­self, stitch by stitch." As Brazil­ian art critic and pro­fes­sor Paula Ramos has writ­ten of Marta Pen­ter: "It is the hu­man that touches and in­sti­gates her; the hu­man is the essence of Pen­ter’s think­ing and her work." In Pen­ter’s hands, the mono­lithic "lonely crowd" of so­ci­ol­ogy is dra­mat­i­cally bro­ken up into spots of time and at­ten­tion – pools of vis­ual con­cen­tra­tion. Marta Pen­ter was born in Porto Ale­gre, Brazil in 1957, and ac­knowl­edges she was in­volved in art from an early age. She stud­ied psy­chol­ogy be­fore be­com­ing an artist – an early in­ter­est that clearly con­tin­ues to in­form her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with crowds, and peo­ple and an in­di­vid­ual’s place within that bustling, never-end­ing swarm of con­flict­ing pri­va­cies in con­tention. Pen­ter has ex­hib­ited at nu­mer­ous gal­leries and art fairs both in Brazil and in­ter­na­tion­ally, in­clud­ing the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art of Rio Grande do Sul, and the Ga­le­ria de Arte Mo­saico, Porto Ale­gre; Ga­le­ria Joao Lagoa, Por­tu­gal; and IV Bienal de Aquarela de Vina Del Mar, Chile. Pen­ter comes from a fam­ily of 14 (11 of them women), and was raised in a big house with a gar­den, spend­ing week­ends at her grand­mother’s farm. "So I grew up," she says, "in an en­vi­ron­ment

of an­i­mals and na­ture. My child­hood was blessed with spe­cial scents, sounds and colours. It was in this at­mos­phere that I started get­ting in­ter­ested in art. I drew fre­quently, at­tend­ing sev­eral art cour­ses when I was a teenager. I re­ally loved mak­ing art." At univer­sity, she grad­u­ated with a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy. She ex­plains, "I was in­ter­ested in ob­serv­ing hu­man be­hav­iour, which later came to be the chief sub­ject of my paint­ings." When her se­cond daugh­ter was born, she stopped work­ing as a psy­chol­o­gist and, hav­ing once given up paint­ing, now took it up again and be­gan her ca­reer as an artist. "From that mo­ment on I have never stopped." Asked about in­flu­ences on her work, Pen­ter cites her fam­ily, men­tion­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, the great con­tri­bu­tion of her daugh­ter Laura, who works for her – with her – and who ac­com­pa­nies her on her trips around the world. Pen­ter says,

"Laura is a huge in­flu­ence in my work. In ad­di­tion, the great Masters of art his­tory have al­ways been at my side, short­en­ing paths and di­a­logu­ing with me." She cites Ed­ward Hop­per, An­drew Wyeth, wa­ter­colourist El­iz­a­beth Pey­ton, Egon Schiele, Lu­cian Freud, Ger­ard Richter, David Hock­ney, Klimt, Car­avag­gio and Rem­brandt Ve­lasquez as some of the artists she most ad­mires. It’s a rich list. Her an­swer to the ques­tion "What kinds of things do you keep in your stu­dio for in­spi­ra­tion?" is quick and em­phatic: "Many travel pho­tos! This is my great­est cre­ative trea­sure!" When asked about her daily life, about its sat­is­fac­tions, Pen­ter claims that her favourite thing to do on week­ends is "to be at home with my fam­ily and my dog. I like cook­ing, read­ing and watch­ing movies! Gen­er­ally, on Fri­days nights, my hus­band and I go out to din­ner. I’m re­ally quite a sim­ple per­son with sim­ple habits. But," she adds, "I like spe­cial and unique things!"

Those ‘spe­cial and unique things’ for her, are part of what most of us would sim­ply think of as slices of ev­ery­day life. In Pen­ter’s world, or­di­nary peo­ple go about do­ing or­di­nary things. Which, be­neath her brush, no longer ap­pear or­di­nary. Look­ing closely at Pen­ter’s paint­ings we can agree that, as Paula Ramos has pointed out, the artist’s groups of het­ero­dox peo­ple in­habit more than what she calls "wait­ing places." Pen­ter’s places are ar­eas of po­ten­tial ex­po­sure, where peo­ple stand, see­ing, but hope­fully not be­ing seen them­selves. That is the enigma of the queue. "Queues," notes Ramos, "have a role that is above any con­sid­er­a­tion of com­mon sense." The gath­er­ing, the wait, em­bod­ies the time in which peo­ple are turned back on them­selves, turned in­ward in pur­suit of an al­most de­fen­sive ru­mi­na­tion. This is one man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Theatre of the Self. Pen­ter’s work iso­lates the gen­uine drama of the per­son who is seen but not aware of be­ing seen. In her hands, each of Pen­ter’s peo­ple is first, a denizen of ev­ery­day space and se­cond, a player in the ar­ti­fi­cial space of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?" poet W. B. Yeats once asked. The an­swer, in Pen­ter’s work, is that the dancer’s life (the peo­ple Pen­ter ac­tu­ally paints) is a con­tin­uum, whereas the dance (the Pen­ter paint­ing it­self) is a con­struc­tion – frozen in time and space, locked, ex­am­inable, an­a­lyz­able, dis­cus­si­ble, de­con­structible. There is life (peo­ple in queues, for ex­am­ple),

left, The Jacquard Jacket, oil on can­vas, 55" x 55" above, Pho­to­graph of the artist in her stu­dio

Girl with the Polka Dot Bag, oil on can­vas, 47" x 47"

Girl with the Blue Beach Chair, oil on can­vas, 47" x 47"

NYC 5th Av­enue Sub­way Sta­tion, oil on can­vas, 55" x 55"

Sel­f­ridges & Co Bags, oil on can­vas, 55" x 55"

top, NY Fash­ion Week Blue Jeans, oil on can­vas, 31" x 75"

bot­tom, NY Fash­ion Week Blue Skirt, oil on can­vas, 31" x 75"

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