A single action repeated over and over: such is the basis of Gloria Ortiz-Hernández’s aptly titled series, “Over and Over.” As in many of her previous works, these drawings adopt the format of a square within a square, in which the central worked image is balanced by the unworked surface of its paper support. Yet while Ortiz-Hernández’s earlier drawings were shaped by her controlled application of graphite and charcoal, the ”Over and Over” series marks the artist’s shift to tape as primary material. Ortiz-Hernández begins each drawing by adhering a single strip of tape within the boundaries of a demarcated central square. Characteristic of her working method, which depends upon a guiding gesture, this single strip provides the artist with a foundation for the drawing. Performing this initial action over and over, Ortiz-Hernández applies additional strips of freely cut lengths of tape, piece by individual piece, finishing each drawing with a thin coat of charcoal pigment and colored pencil.
In this series, each strip of tape becomes a line that forms the drawing’s overall structure. Yet while all of the drawings in the “Over and Over” series conform to the same process of production, every piece exhibits a unique result. This variability derives from Ortiz-Hernández’s practice of working with a combination of intuition and control, such that the repetitive process of applying tape strips is neither automatic nor conditioned by what was previously done. As one piece of tape follows another, Ortiz-Hernández strives to preserve the individual nature of each strip, often moving from one area of the paper to another in the process of creating each piece. Such handling causes the surprising diagonals, shifts in direction, and irregular spacing between lines in the drawings of this series.
In the case of Over and Over #5 (2010), areas of horizontally oriented pieces of tape disrupt the vertical strips that dominate the structure of the work. Three of these areas – two located along the square’s bottom axis and the third hovering in its top right corner – expand inward to meet along the length of two additional sets of horizontal lines which extend across the square’s central axis. Together, these areas appear like bound or reinforced apertures in the drawing’s structure, which, because of the charcoal’s dark organic tones, bring to mind thatching or basketry. In her own discussion of Over and Over #5, Ortiz-Hernández describes these horizontal lines as “accents.” Further alluding to language is Ortiz-Hernández’s explanation that the intent of her drawings is to give “voice” to her materials. If this is the case, what do the materials say and how can they be understood?
Interestingly, an answer can perhaps be found by considering Over and Over #5 as a text, a concept that in fact reconciles the seemingly disparate references of thatch-work and language. Returning to the original Latin, the word “text” originally derived from the past participle of texere, meaning to weave or to fabricate.1 Placing emphasis on the act of making, such linguistic roots suggest that the process and structure of Over and Over #5 is essential to reading the work as a form of text. Yet although the methods responsible for the creation of Ortiz-Hernández’s drawings are known, the precise point at which the artist initiated, continued, or finished the piece cannot be determined due to the accumulation of the tape strips. With each piece of tape placed over and over onto the page without any established beginning or end, Over and Over #5 must therefore be approached as a non-narrative text. Indeed, viewers of the drawing must be converted into readers in order to notice how the delicate fold of a strip of tape refuses to lay flat; how shadows and contours are formed by soft tonal highlights; how wisps of charcoal powder escape from the boundaries of the square. The materials’ subtleties are only revealed when Over and Over #5 is closely read, examined, analyzed, over and over.
1. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., s.v. “Text.”
Originally begun as a personal exercise intended to be kept private, “in a box,”1 the “Letters to the Mother” series dominated Elena del Rivero’s artistic production for nearly a decade from the 1990s through early 2000s. Having studied English literature at Cambridge University, del Rivero was inspired to create the series by the undelivered missive written by Franz Kafka to his father in 1919. While visually evoking the unresolved attempt at communication central to Kafka’s text, del Rivero’s artworks shift the intended recipient of the letter from father to mother (and, in related series, are penned as unfinished letters to a young daughter, letters from a bride, etc.), thereby adopting female perspectives with both personal and universal resonances.
The three examples of del Rivero’s letters on view — Carta a la Madre (1993), Letter to Wynn Kramarsky (1996), and Letter to the Mother (2000) — demonstrate the range of materials, processes, and techniques that del Rivero explored while “writing” her missives. Intimately scaled works on paper intended to recall the size of actual letters, all three works have their titles typed or stamped across the top in a plain font. As simple explanatory declarations, these titles appear in stark contrast to the expressive markings that make up the body of each letter. Indeed, though often erroneously described in terms of a minimal aesthetic, del Rivero’s letters reverberate with barely contained emotion. This is most noticeably the case with Carta a la Madre (1993), a work composed of three sheets of paper arranged side by side upon which the artist has filled in areas in graphite. Shaped like paragraphs and ending at various intervals to evoke lines of text, these areas are so forcefully shaded as to appear black, with only the tooth of the paper fibers visible through the medium. It is precisely the mystery of what lies beneath the obscuring forms – if anything – that makes Carta a la Madre such an arresting work. What words are hidden beneath the nearly full page of uninterrupted darkness on the letter’s final page? Was something written and erased? Does the censorship of the paragraphs convey more than any words could have?
The only clue can perhaps be found in the typewritten text alluding to the location and date when Carta a la Madre was presumably created (in this case, Jávea, a small seaside town near the artist’s native Valencia, Spain, in August 1993). Similar identifying, if nonetheless still elusive, clues are found on del Rivero’s Letter to the Mother, which is not only dated, stamped, and initialed by the artist, but also bears additional markings that have been tantalizingly covered over by correction fluid. Unlike in Carta a la Madre, the actual text of Letter to the Mother remains visible: a cacophony of irregularly spaced NOs, a word that translates freely between the artist’s native Spanish and adopted English. Despite the legibility of the letter, however, the actual meaning of del Rivero’s many NOs remains somewhat lost, as they appear printed on a torn sheet of paper that has been ripped from its original context and affixed to a larger sheet with thread. Significantly, this thread is strung with dainty pearls, creating juxtaposition between the matte typewritten ink and the luminescent gems. A material used frequently in del Rivero’s oeuvre for its rich symbolism, the pearls in Letter to the Mother thus may be understood in terms of their alchemical associations as healing elements, for not only are the pearls used to help suture the torn paper, but they also help soften the stridency of the ink NOs. Indeed, at times the two mediums fuse into a single form as a rounded pearl takes the place of the letter O.
Symbolism is also present in del Rivero’s Letter to Wynn Kramarsky, the body of which is composed of gold brushstrokes precisely painted to mimic lines of text. Kramarsky was the first to collect works from del Rivero’s “Letters” series, and the use of gold in this letter could therefore allude to the artist-patron relationship. According to del Rivero, however, this drawing is “really all about love” and wanting to “give someone your best.”2 Indeed, though easily overlooked by unknowing viewers, the seemingly insignificant date printed on Letter to Wynn Kramarsky is important in that it corresponds to a milestone birthday for the collector. As del Rivero recalls, the drawing was sent as a gift through the mail. Whether actually sent by post or not, Letter to Wynn Kramarsky represents a delivered letter with sentiments quite different from the more difficult “Letters to the Mother” series–though perhaps equally unexpressible through text.
1. Interview with the artist, New York, May 25, 2012.
Elena del Rivero