HULDA GUZMÁN: MY FLORA, MY FAUNA
Dominican Republic-based artist Hulda Guzmán (1984) has long employed her tropical surroundings to illustrate her exploration of perspective and reality. Introspection during quarantine, especially, has influenced her contemplation to shift further inward—the flora and fauna depicted in the paintings exhibited at Alexander Berggruen are expressly her own.
In surveying this body of work, Guzmán noted: “In the face of the isolating situation, I focused on depicting my spaces and surroundings. Portraying trees helped me to divert my mind from negative thoughts and visualizations, and brought my attention back to the present moment –stepping aside the mind and remembering that fear is merely imagination used poorly. As for the self-portraits, I feel like I began to sort of multiply: where is my point of view? Is it behind the frame painting it, or is it on the scene dancing while posing for the picture? How much is without a reflection of within? Perspective all depends on where we are standing, but also maybe how we decide to see things.”
Vivid colors, deliberate arrangement of repeated surfaces, imaginary creatures, and unexpected plant life provide a respite from reality. In considering her 2020 painting Pintando la Almendra, which portrays Guzmán painting a portrait of herself painting a portrait of herself, and so forth, the artist stated: “The Droste effect in this picture, recursively appearing within itself, creates a loop; and so this mise en abyme suggests the concept of infinity, as fractals do, which represents the boundless, the unfathomable. And so the philosophical nature of infinity conveys relativity regarding time/space, and so speaks to the nature of reality.” Guzmán renders an infinite self portrait, painted with eyebrows furrowed and mouth wide open—ecstatic in immeasurable joy or pain, or perhaps both.
The artist further interrogates reality in Quarantine visitor. While the title suggests a “visitor” beyond the artist and her ubiquitous cat, the painting reveals only an effervescent and seemingly solitary Guzmán. The painting within this painting, as it rests upon a table, reveals a scene inside of the same room, with objects slightly rearranged, as a careful observer might detect. In comparing these differences, next to the artist, one may notice the tree growing, irrationally, out of the reflective tile. As opposed to the human guest for which most would assume to search, this tree is perhaps the safe “Quarantine visitor” of the work’s title.
In a hopeful response to the Anthropocene –an era marked by the effects humans have left on the quality of the environment– Hulda Guzmán portrays a vibrantly-colored, nature-abundant world in which trees and foliage tower above figures, emphasizing human’s relative role within the ecosystem. In A secret, a sloping hill, tall trees, and a hazy pink sky occupy prominent space in the composition. The title hints that the figure near lower-center bends to whisper a secret into the cow’s open ear. Although figures tend to drive the narrative in Guzmán’s works, the artist prompts the viewer to respect nature’s own omnipresence.
While speaking about the presence of animals in this body of work, Guzmán stated: “We see wildlife, we see tamed wildlife, we see how tamed wildlife might see us,” and quickly acknowledged “this speculation [about how tamed wildlife might see us] is probably narcissistic.” In Mpaka 2, Guzmán’s pet cat appears to return the viewer’s gaze. The cosmic night sky becomes textured by the cedar plywood surface of the painting’s support, drawing attention to the handmade essence of painting. Here, the artist’s domesticated pet cat Mpaka, residing within this constructed cedar scene, also brings to mind the force that humankind imparts on the quality of our biosphere.
The works in Hulda Guzmán: my flora, my fauna reveal an artist in exuberant introspection and exploration of reality and perspective through her distinct iconography —informed by her imagination and the flora and fauna in her surroundings within the Dominican Republic. Guzmán renders a world in which children, adults, animals, plants, and invented creatures alike come together to dance, lounge, congregate, share secrets, and play —all colored and enriched by embracing nature and celebrated through the act of painting.
HULDA GUZMÁN: MY FLORA, MY FAUNA
Alexander Berggruen, 1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York
October 23-December 21, 2020