Spanish-born, London-based artist Angela de la Cruz came to attention with ‘broken’, monochrome canvases during the mid to late 1990s, Through a range of usually destructive acts turned into a creative process, de la Cruz makes paintings by smashing the canvas stretcher, slashing the paint surface, folding the canvas in halves or crumpling it into a ball. In pure yellow, red and blue paints, amongst others, de la Cruz toys with the monochrome canvas and its radical but grandiose history within movements in modern art such as abstraction, minimalism and conceptualism. However, the artist’s violent and cathartic practice might best be understood as a contemporary reworking of action painting.
During the 1950s action painters such as Jackson Pollock used impulsive brushwork to create unstable, energetic compositions that seemingly expressed their inner consciousness. In his 1952 article ‘The American action painters’, critic Harold Rosenberg defined the movement as ‘a certain moment [when] the canvas began to appear … as an arena in which to act’. Such performativity on and with the canvas describes the mode in which de la Cruz operates; she breaks the very structure that supports the work, making it vulnerable, susceptible to further unpredictable damage and rejects the flatness so admired by modernist art critics. These works are at once a conflation of painting and sculpture and a stage for the artist’s emotions and artistic explorations, as reflected in her titles: Bully, Knackered, Broken into pieces, Misery, Vomit painting, Ashamed, Falling on your own butt, to name a few.
De la Cruz incorporates the abject, using recycled materials and colours such as red and brown which she says make her work look like faeces. Loose fit (Blue), 2002, is the colour of new bruises. The painting looks sore and pathetically winded after being bullied by the artist, and suggestions of brutality and dejection are common in critiques of her work. They show the signs of ‘mishaps’ – tears, patches, dents – and are regularly exhibited in awkward positions; in a corner, under a chair or trapped in a doorway. While de la Cruz rejects the notion that her paintings are anthropomorphic, she enjoys the meeting of humour and cruelty in her works and that they imitate physical conditions.
Fashion, the body and disease are also relevant to understanding works such as Loose fit (Blue) which ‘wears’ the canvas as if it were oversized clothes. The painting is part of a series of Loose fit canvases that have been removed from their stretchers and screwed up. The transformative qualities of the grotesque and its symbolic associations with bodily discharge, eroticism, transgression and excess reiterates the artist’s aesthetic interest in the imperfect and risqué. Conceptually Loose fit (Blue) explores the body that smells, is sensual and subject to change. The creases in the canvas reference saggy folds in the skin like those bodily after-effects of a crash diet or giving birth. De la Cruz says, ‘If I do something beautiful I can’t breathe. I get claustrophobic. I want it to be physical, brutal’.
Kate Rhodes, Assistant Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria, (in 2004).