It’s interesting to me, of late, how I’ve found several exhibitions I’ve seen in the past year returning to my mind. Sometimes this is in a more esoteric manner, considering how they affirmed or changed my mind regarding the wide range of what I consider ‘art’, but more often it’s been in terms of artists I was introduced to, and their works. One of these that’s been quite good for that was a past exhibition at the Niagara Pumphouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was the Walker Industries Art Competition, with a plethora of engaging works. Several of the artists in that were known to me (Janny Fraser, Geoff Farnsworth, Emily Andrews) and others were new. These included Erna de Vries, whose work I responded to here, or the person I’m focusing upon here, Lorena Ziraldo. Ziraldo’s work in that exhibition was large and striking: a portrait (titled Youth) where the figure was primarily monochromatic, but with an almost acidicly bright green background. The use of colour was both restrained and then exploded onto you. This piece – in the smaller space that was that exhibition, of two rooms very densely filled with numerous works – brought me back to it again and again.
Ziraldo’s statement is refreshingly direct, much like her work: ‘As an artist I am inspired by what I see and feel. One way or another all artists comment, document, and explore; looking for new ways to say something or say something new. Artists’ work reflects who we are, what is going on, and what it is to be. I am an observer, and chronicler of basic human emotions…Human emotions are the constants in life. Concentrating on the portrayal of figures, I stick to my mantra, and focus on formal qualities (composition, colour, space), subtle delivery. Simple ingredients can evoke a powerful response.’
Ziraldo is a graduate of NSCAD. That’s a space that has considered itself one of the hotbeds of conceptual art in Canada, if not the world (while also spewing out some charlatans who’ve helped moreso deform than define Canadian art, if such a beast exists under a forced umbrella). It has also, in reality, been a school that has pushed and pulled painting into interesting, and challenging spaces. Gerald Ferguson was a defining force there, for some time. This welding of abstraction and realism, idea and form (all fluid terms in practice and concept) can be seen in her vignettes: they’re reminiscent of some of Deibenkorn‘s scenes, which are painterly renderings of a moment.
Ziraldo’s work is very much about painting, and insinuating forms and spaces through her brushstrokes and use of colour. Some people and objects are not so much illustrated as implied; a number of her scenes have an atmosphere that conveys a feeling, an ephemeral sense rendered in pigment and mark making. I always find myself saying that whereas photography can be the capture of a moment, painting is the creation of one, but in Ziraldo’s vignettes, experiences of a moment are augmented and more fully realized, in a manner that evokes emotion through hue and tone and texture.
During my extended writer’s residency in Welland, I’ve been absorbing a variety of biographies and books on artists, specifically painters. A line from Franke Auerbach is relevant here: ‘Painting is a practical day-to-day thing I think. One might say something clever, on might say something big, but one does something limited. It is a serious thing – like religion – like love – one does the persistent thing, and then the really remarkable happens when something’s there that wasn’t there before.’
I want to return to Deibenkorn in speaking of Lorera Ziraldo’s people and scenes. His pictures of people were often casual, not overly dramatic, but pauses that allow the paint to ‘speak.’ This is also very true in Ziraldo’s pictures. A corner or a background is rendered in such a way that the brushstrokes, the colours (which seem to ‘fight’ but really just augment each other, as in several of her portrait works) hold your eye longer than the figure. Sometimes, as with Youth, a colour that a less skilled artist might ruin a painting with is employed with a facility that makes Ziraldo’s piece dominate a room (as it did at the Pumphouse, for me) and draw you back to it. The effervescent greens pull you in, and then you can appreciate the subtle strokes and tones of the figure.
Her biography (taken from Secord Gallery in the Maritimes) is as follows: ‘Lorena Ziraldo was born in Italy and raised in Canada. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in painting at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Even while a student at NSCAD, her work demonstrated remarkable maturity and depth. Since her graduation in 2000, she has steadily increased her following with successful exhibitions in Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. Lorena’s paintings are rich with fluid and exquisite brushwork, and indulge in the possibilities of expression through use of colour, light, space, and composition. The narrative quality that exists in her figure paintings is poetic, compelling, and reflective, as we see reminders of our own lives in the subjects she chooses, and in the sensitive way in which she paints them.’
Her figures, whether alone or in groups, are often engaged in their own worlds, the scenes Ziraldo has not so much placed them in as simply recorded their actions within. Several favourites of mine show people in gallery spaces, either paused before an artwork, or seeming to have a quite moment. With some of the outdoor scenes, on beaches or in implied rain or fog, they seem to have been ‘captured’ as they move through the picture plane, again in an ephemeral way that suggesets a moment we watch through a foggy window, colours made too vivid and soft and fuzzy by the weather, here and then quickly gone.
The actors in her pictures have an element of mystery, too. Often facing away from us, again absorbed in their own spaces, and we ‘watch’ them, to see what they might do next. There’s not a voyeuristic quality, as her people are so often at ease, so calm, and almost unconcerned at our gaze and prescence. We’re welcome to observe, gazing in at them as they seem to gaze at objects and scenes in the tableaux Ziraldo has constructed for them, all of us watching….
The header image is a detail, in progress, of The Fog Came In. You can see more of Lorena Ziraldo’s works, both in progress and more finished, at her site here. There are also several gallery spaces online that feature more of her fine pictures, especially this one at the Secord Gallery in Halifax, as well as La Galerie Blanche in Montreal. All images are copyright of the artist, and taken from online sources, such as Ziraldo’s own site or her respective gallery representives.