Heads and Torsos
In “Heads and Torsos,” on view at Bortolami Gallery, the Argentina-born, New York-based artist Nicolás Guagnini exhibits two series of oil paintings depicting—you guessed it—heads and torsos. Referencing Asger Jorn’s 1948 text “What Is an Ornament?,” which argues that ornamentation “is nothing less than … the geometry of matter itself,” Guagnini imagines the body as a source of beauty as well as substance, with all its attendant vulnerabilities. The first series consists of a set of three-dimensional squiggled lines vaguely resembling heads in profile, set against a background of Dalí-esque dusk. Castor and Pollux (2021), for instance, imagines the pair of half-brothers amid an arid environment, a web of breath suspended between them. The creatures depicted are flat, but throw shadows; they make no pretensions to being an organism that exists or could exist in our reality, and yet refuse to fully devolve into strokes of paint.
Both series began as drawings Guagnin produced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The second series of torsos, each 20 by 16 inches, bear the same form of thin-waisted bodies set against black backgrounds. Manifold lines recall coils of breath, nerves, hairs, intestines, the folds of a brain. Though purportedly inspired by thangka, a style of Tibetan painting that depicts a deity or mandala, intended for personal meditation or instruction, COVID-19 bears an indelible influence, too. The lines that web through the bodies are vectors of disease, disorder, destruction, marking the body as endangered matter—as well as sites of formal exploration, even beauty. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Nicolás Guagnini, Torso 6, 2021. Oil on linen mounted on wood, 20 x 16 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York. Photography by Kristian Laudrup.