Silvia Poloto Text by Dewitt Cheng May 2008
Gallery 415 is pleased to present recent work by the Brazilian-born San Francisco painter, photographer, and mixed-media artist Silvia Poloto. A prolific artist who has shown in an impressive list of venues during her career, she will be showing not only the lyrical abstractions on canvas for which she is best known, but also a series of recent multimedia works on wood entitled Absence/Presence; these pieces combine painting with digital imagery, both found and manufactured, in order to reflect on the psychology of illness and mortality. While the new works take on the serious themes of classical art, they retain Poloto’s masterly command of color, gesture and texture; they are sumptuously beautiful improvisations that have come together from the disparate elements filling the artist’s studio through the agency of Poloto’s intuition — her perfect visual pitch.
The mixed-media Observations paintings are brilliantly colored but modulated fields of acrylic paint inhabited by an assortment of visual events: sweeping brushstrokes in black and white, meandering lines, grids of dots, poured squiggles, and scrubbed-in blobs. They are reminiscent of various Abstract Expressionist painters —Miro, Baziotes, Rothko, Motherwell, and Tapies— but this is a synthesis that creates its own world. A variety of marks is presented close up to the picture plane in front of an aqueous, shadowy mass of color, as if floating on waves or emerged from chaos, but drifting slightly; a sense of temporality and change emerges from the sometimes odd and ambiguous shapes, which seem to breathe.
The new Absence/Presence mixed-media works on wood with resin combine Poloto’s painting with the digital work of her two recent conceptual series: Crush, matching allegorical titles (Lust, Discord, Crave, Release) with enlarged photographs of details of common (but unidentified) household objects; and her Unresolved series of color photos based on dolls and props, with their religious-themed tableaus (Power, Penance, Worship, Lies).
The new works, generally door-sized, hint at transcendence and transformation, combining the beauty of her painterly color and gesture with the submerged emotional content of the photographic work to suggest an infinite or mystical vision revealing the eternal and the temporal as interpenetrating and complementary. Art critic Terri Cohn writes: “Poloto consistently savors the play between the power of the photographic images she uses, the gestural, abstract ground she paints around them, and the gridded compositional format that holds the two in dialogue with each other.” For the artist, objects and field, figure and ground are equivalent — merely different states of matter.
Robert Rauschenberg famously said that he wanted to work in the gap between art and life, and many contemporary artists followed his lead — not just in incorporating a miscellany of objects and media in their work, but also demystifying the artistic process from romantic inspiration to open-ended experimentation.
Such an esthetic demands not just a fearless openness to stimuli and ideas, but also the visual imagination and instincts to refine the daily chaos into an ordered esthetic beauty. Poloto, who immigrated to California in 1992 as a young electrical engineer and discovered her knack for visual communication almost by chance, possesses both qualities in abundance. Pursuing her art education independently, she picked up metalworking, painting, video and photographic skills as she needed them —“Nothing could stop me,” she says. She remembers somewhat wryly, however, that after welding metal sculptures out of creative compulsion, she discovered a book on Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith, and in it, her unknown artistic ancestors.
That slight reinvention of the wheel aside, however, Poloto’s career has been extremely successful.
Her sculpture, paintings and assemblages that have been exhibited in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Jordan, Romania, China, and the United Arab Emirates as well as the United States in Dallas, Portland, Chicago, Park City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, New York City and, of course, San Francisco. Bay Area venues displaying her work include the DeYoung Museum, where she was an artist in residence, the Italian-American Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Her work resides in eighty corporate collections and more than nine hundred private collections. She has won many prizes and awards and has been featured in many publications. This is her first exhibition with Gallery 415.Dewitt Cheng is an art historian, writer and art critic in the Bay Area