Elina Cerla is a painter and independent researcher in the process of forging her own figurative language after having gained technical training from an eclectic array of teachers, including two years with Amaya Gurpide, a term at the London Atelier of Representational Art, courses at the Complutense University of Madrid and the Barcelona Academy of Art, as well as workshops with Antonio López and Vincent Desiderio. She brings to her practice a theoretical perspective which is a residue of her degree in Philosophy and Masters in Cultural Policy (both from Warwick University). Currently based in London, she has been running ‘Visual Thinking’ classes that combine the teaching of technique with elements of art history, theory and neuropsychology, fuelled by her interests in the ways in which perception and the biology of vision can help overcome the usual hurdles faced when learning to draw and paint.
Elina is at the beginning of her career as a painter, having had two solo exhibitions in Spain (Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, and in the context of the three-month Beca de Primavera Artist Residency, L’Escala), a two-person exhibition in France (Galerie Collectif E3, Arles) and has participated in numerous group shows mainly in the UK and Spain. Alongside her painting, she is currently launching a platform for critical thought specialised in painting and literature (due to be live at the end of the year).
Forging a Figurative Language through the Convergence of Form, Content and Process
It is not the subject which matters but the translation of the subject into the abstraction of the surface by means of painting. (Max Beckmann)
Painting is a constant process of decision-making. Forging a figurative language requires constant critical engagement with painting’s core elements of form, content and process, and will be analysed giving emphasis to how this triad can potentially converge as a carrier of ideas. Even in the primarily visual medium of painting, theory and words are capable of providing critical distance which constructively feeds back into the working process; they become praxis. To be reminded of the non- neutrality of not only words but seeing and painting, and how this affects our decision-making, avoids the uncritical adoption of inherited uses. When painters are constantly and critically repositioning themselves in relation to those concepts most central to their technical and conceptual language, the coherence of their work can only increase.
In light of the resurgence of technical painting academies that teach representational systems, it is paramount that there also be a reassessment of critical thinking in relation to the technical procedures followed, the subject-matter chosen and the very act of painting. No act in the painting process is neutral.
Following Wollheim’s model of ‘twofoldedness’, it will be argued that the mutually dependent awareness of form and content is definitional to representational painting. Consequently, the duality between form and content is not only interesting to discussions of representational painting, it is the very core. Examples of work that pushes the materiality of paint will be used to open up the notion of how friction between form and content can arise, and the concept of painting as a carrier of ideas will be examined. The work of various painters will be referred to including: Titian, Rembrandt, Courbet, de Kooning, Uglow, Rustin and Auerbach.
Many choices, be they traditionally inherited or the result of critical repositioning, represent an attempt to make form and content converge. With the choice of format, palette or compositional device, a formal decision is made and, usually, these decisions are in concordance with the intended subject matter. These choices are not arbitrary to a painter’s figurative language, they come together to build it. The possibility for form and content to, at least, be aware of one another, maybe even find ways in which to converge, becomes a powerful carrier for the painter’s ideas.
The concatenation of decisions made, of constantly taking responsibility for all the elements of one’s work, cumulatively becomes a process in itself; a process that strengthens the expression of ideas underpinning the painted surface. The fundamental triad of form, content and process is the main carrier of ideas in representational painting. Not just individual ideas in a specific painting, or those developed in a body of work, but ideas that connect to other discourses, legacies and traditions.
Vincent Desiderio’s theories of ‘Technical Narrative’ as opposed to ‘Dramatic Narrative’, as well as his notion of the ‘Allegorization of Method’, and how these are an expression of similar divisions, will be introduced. This will be followed by examples of work where elements of form, content and process can be seen to converge, including: El Divino Morales, Late Titian, Vincent Desiderio, Adrian Ghenie and Barbara Walker.
Critical thinking needs to be placed at the centre of the proposed triadic model of constant decision- making in painting. If not, at best, the results risk becoming repetitious and vacuous. At worst, they risk being vehicles for conveying a stagnant and often damaging status quo.