Miss Van opens a new exhibition next week entitled Flor de Piel at Victor Lope Arte Comptemporáneo in Barcelona. The show includes 20 new works and will be the first in her adopted home city in over 10 years. The title refers to the Spanish idiom which directly translates as ‘like the flower of skin’ but which in actual fact refers to the raw honesty of emotions being brought to the surface and being openly displayed.
Last year, the Toulousaine artist staged her first museum show at CAC Málaga (covered). The exhibition provided a comprehensive survey of her practice from over the last three years and the masks featured in those paintings were rendered in a dark, brooding palette. The new body of work demonstrates the continuing evolution of Miss Van’s paintings with the introduction of markedly softer hues, invoking a sense of dreamy, other-worldliness. The obscuring of faces, which has been a recurring theme throughout her career, could be read as suggesting submission or diffidence; however, the self-confident posture of the ‘poupées’ indicates the opposite to be the case. While the masks hide some features they are also a vehicle for conveying different facets of the subject’s personality; bird masks evoke animalistic freedom, delicate fabric shrouds suggest a quiet intimacy and geisha makeup hints at a quiet confidence. Likewise, the ladies’ hair is also used to convey a further layer of their personality with intricate plaits and hair sculptures alluding to complex sophistication and free-flowing tresses showing a state of personal liberation.
Flowers, which frame and adorn the subjects’ faces, are another dominant motif throughout the new show. The tone and form of these flowers and the cropping of paintings such as the reclining Flaming Hair Muse appear to directly reference the art of Georgia O’Keeffe who also produced deliberately personal, rather than political, work. The American modernist consistently refuted the sexual interpretations of her flower paintings and was adamant that she should not be reduced down to the label of simply a ‘female artist’. Likewise, although Miss Van self-consciously addresses the themes of femininity and female identity, it is important to appreciate the subtle nuances and rich complexity that this incorporates. Miss Van’s figures have previously worn African tribal masks and the flowers in the new body of work also bring to mind the Surma tribe from the Ethiopian borderlands, who decorate their faces with delicate flowers and other flora that grows in the lower Omo Valley. However, although there may be connections to the Mother of American Modernism and parallels to aspects of East African culture, the richness of Flor de Piel comes from the emotions which are imbued in the paintings by Miss Van herself.
The exhibition runs from 26th January to 11th March (Monday (16.00 to 20.00), Tuesday to Friday (11.00 to 14.00 and 16.00 to 20.00) and Saturday (11.00 to 14.00) at C/Aribau 75, 08036 Barcelona.