Silvia Poloto: The Unresolved Series By Terri Cohn 2005

Although no one quite remembers who first said, “a picture is worth more than a thousand words,” its potential implications and meanings remain timeless. A painting is a window into another world. It is inherently a narrative medium that tells stories or compels us to construct them from the relationships created by its composed images, colors, lines, gestures and space. Over the past half-century, the anecdotal potential of painting has been expanded by its material juxtaposition with photographic images, which has encouraged both interchange and non-linear relationships between the two media.  The possibility for unabashed associative relationships among pictorial elements is indebted to the early explorations of Robert Rauschenberg, the Pop artists, and the media explosion of the mid-twentieth century, all of which opened vast potential for artistic invention and interpretation.  Silvia Poloto, a painter and mixed media artist, is heir to this rich tradition.  An inventive and  prolific artist, she has played with the expansive connotative dynamic between painting and photographic images in her recent series Unresolved.  In this series of fifteen works, Poloto has expanded on her earlier abstract paintings and has retained a consistent palette dominated by primary, neutral, and orange tones.

However, in these new works, she has introduced iconic images that allude to the complex range of human emotions.  Poloto’s methodology and the often sinister tenor of the series was established with the first piece, titled Lies, which features an archival pigment print of a worn wooden doll partially shrouded in satin fabric.  The contrast between the brilliantly lit, impassive toy resting in a suggestive interior, and the spectral, Pinocchio-like shape beside it, evokes a sense of foreboding childhood tales and memories.

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.  Some works have more ominous implications, like Exit, with its centrally placed image of a syringe, and Betrayal, where the tip of a knife appears to pierce the center of the blood-red canvas.  Other paintings, such as Penance, which is dominated by a medieval mace, and Worship, which features a beatific black Madonna that belonged to Poloto’s grandmother, refer to the influence of her Brazilian-Catholic upbringing.  By contrast Couture is quite free and playful, with its images of a button and a spool of thread interconnected by a fiber that loops from one to the other across the painterly diptych canvas.

With a desire to create works that retain an edge yet embody a greater sense of levity, Poloto painted two pieces that speak of love and  marriage: Promises, which is populated by two elegantly dressed men, and Vows, a pair of bridal gowned women. While these paintings continue the artist’s investigation of relationships, she has since created a more emblematic series where she has used pigs as human surrogates. Oddly enough, the implied predicaments of the small photographic images of plastic swine that populate Commitment, Community, Reverence, and Isolation are even more disturbing than their human counterparts in Poloto’s other works, perhaps because the contrast between their inherent innocence, the situations they represent, and our implied treatment of them is so painfully apparent.  As is characteristic of Poloto’s oeuvre, it may be her candor about such tacit circumstances that evokes our own unresolved feelings about the truth of the human condition.Terri Cohn is a San Francisco based writer, curator and art historian.