If Rebeca Puga’s paintings could speak, they might quote, in their collective voice, the Socratic paradox, “I only know that I know nothing.” Instead of formulating bold statements, they suggest ineffable speculations.
In pencil lines, thin washes, and wobbly brushstrokes, one can sense the artist’s uncertain hand having worked and reworked passages in futile effort to materialize things too indistinct to capture. This inconclusive tenor culminates in the viewer trying to decipher specific objects and places so abstracted and jumbled that they are unidentifiable, though not unfamiliar.
”New Paintings” at Sloan Projects consists of two large oil on canvas and eight small gouache on panel paintings. The small paintings are more focused, unified by limited palettes and lyrically simple compositions of linear webs interweaving washes and color fields. Despite their ambiguous correspondence to the real world, the best of these small works educe poignant feelings that they portray locations that actually exist somewhere. Summation (2016) looks like a fanciful skyscraper floating in fog; After Hours (2016) might be chair or human legs glimpsed under a desk and overlaid by boredom-induced fancy; Evening Drive (2016) could portray a harbor bridge as seen from the window of a quickly passing car.
Like musical improvisations, the free-flowing compositions of Puga’s large paintings whimsically shift from scene to scene, evoking evanescent atmosphere, place, time, and thought. Subtleties of color and texture summon elusive senses of becoming. In Reconfigurations (2016), a white zigzag’s dull sheen emerges as through wet mist, only to vanish when viewed from another angle.
Born in Chile, Puga lives in Los Angeles. Form and content evince her binary nationality. The press release acknowledges her affinity to Amy Sillman and Roberto Matta. It’s also interesting to think of her work in the context of other Chilean painters like Carlos Maturana and Samy Benmayor.
In Home and Away (2015), chimerical architecture and febrile vessel forms entwine day and night. Where is Home? Is it the small farmhouse amid the verdant field at the painting’s bottom edge, or the salmon-roofed domicile next to palm trees on the hill in the dark?
For Puga, perhaps it is both. We all are delimited by our environments and thoughts; but like that of reveries, the charm of these improbable scenes lies in their suggestions of possibility.
“Rebeca Puga: New Paintings,” September 10-October 15, 2016 at Sloan Projects, 2525 Michigan Ave. Gallery B5, Santa Monica, CA 90404, www.sloanprojects.com