Varda Caivano’s work stretches the imagination

I had a nightmare around dawn on the day I visited Voice, the exhibition of Varda Caivano’s paintings at the Victoria Miro Gallery in Islington. I dreamt I was on one of several inexplicably muddy tracks up a mountain when loud rumbling made me look up. Water was cascading like lava over the mountain-top and down the tracks walled with rocks. It was my fault I was trapped – the slimy mud should have told me I was in a gully.

The setting, atmosphere and events of the dream were still all too present when I was confronted with what seemed to be its realisation in paint (pictured). Caivano has said that her purpose in making paintings is to stretch the imagination – her own and the viewer’s. In this case I had come ready primed with a detailed scenario that others could never see.

Another instance of Francois Morellet’s observation that going to a gallery is like going to a picnic site – everyone brings their own food.

In a perceptive essay Non-linear Thought: On the Painting of Varda Caivano, Felicity Lunn, formerly a curator of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, says Caivano creates visual drama out of vistas which lead the eye into the painting while spirals of paint move the gaze. The viewer is lured, she says, “into a mode of dreamy contemplation that is always stopped short by doubts concerning what exactly we are looking at”.

Lunn praises the Argentinian artist’s fragile, intuitive feel for colour. Transparent areas of jewel-like colours can impart a back-lit quality to otherwise dark, even claustrophobic, compositions. In one of the most eloquent works on display – all untitled and painted last year – charcoal is combined with oil paint to create a medley of dusky and glowing colours evoking autumn.


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Born in 1971, Caivano graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2004 and now lives and works in Shoreditch. Her paintings are in the British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet which opened at the Hayward Gallery yesterday. One to watch.

o Until March 12 at 16 Wharf Road N1. Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 6pm.

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