Katia Santibañez New Work


In Gilles Deleuze’s landmark volume Difference & Repetition (1968) he proposes that difference and repetition have a function that is independent of the concepts of sameness, identity, resemblance, similarity, or equivalence. In other words, difference may perhaps be internal to the nature of every idea and how every idea may have multiple elements, which may be differentiated; but repetition employs elements which multiply each other. Essentially both rely on each other in order to describe the transformation of the “image of thought.”

Katia Santibañez, "The First Glimpse" (2008). Acrylic on wood. 20 × 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Danese Gallery.

What is so curious about Katia Santibañez, as I’ve observed her work over the last several years, is that she has patiently, yet steadily, pursued her own vision of “the image of thought.” Similar to the artists of her generation who emerged in the 1990s, she has an interest in repeated form or mark-making in a variety of ways to maximize visual stimulation, which demands a new pictorial language that can explore Deleuze’s concept of difference and repetition, or similarity and repetition.

There is a growing tendency by artists such as Tom Friedman, Fred Tomaselli, James Siena (to whom she is married), Joe Arnheim, Bruce Pearson, and a few others whose works explore the madness that embraces collisions between psychedelic culture and post-modernist injunctions of small narratives that emerged from fragments of everyday life. While some construct their data as possible hallucinogenic reality that, resonating post-Freudian dream/hysteria, or organizing idiosyncratic diagrams that viscerally adjust their asymmetrical frameworks derive from cyberspace, others take refuge in their deconstruction of word fragments from various scholarly texts and popular reading, to re-contextualize their meanings in a greater dislocation and transparency. (Not to mention the pervasive influence of Pierogi 2000, founded and directed by Joe Arnheim and his partner the poet Susan Swenson, and the series of exhibits entitled “Microwaves,” conceived and curated by Josée Bienvenu, considered the home base of endless interpretations of difference and repetition.)

Katia Santibañez, "Between the Waves" (2008). Acrylic on wood. 24 × 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Danese Gallery.

However, what sets Santibañez apart from those artists is the reverie and a heightened sense of displacement are both so deeply rooted in her French culture. By this I mean that there is a resolute absence of the so-called “contaminated” imagery that persists so predominantly in the discourse of utopia/dystopia among her American counterparts. Sanitbañez’s unapologetic identification with and love for natural forms has prompted her into an on-going immersion in rectilinear and curvilinear forms that are capable of transforming themselves into harmonious ripples that result in an all-over unity without disturbing or resisting the given power of the minimalist grid. Her desire for maximal construction of repeated forms is conjoined with the lesser emphasis on the objectification of anxious objects. There is no drama, no longing for the overt presence of density. There are no optical effects that create spatial discrepancies; there is only a slow and deep meditation on nature, however much of it exists in an urban environment. This allows Santibañez to embrace every possible aspect of nature’s grandeur, whether it emanates from the gentle movement of wind finding its way among blades of grass, ferns, tree trunks standing erect in the forest, or the shimmering light that flickers across such sultry surfaces. As a result, the interplay of abstraction and representation could in fact co-exist within the repeated rhythm and constructed grid.

For example, in “Between Caresses,” one observes four columns of fern-like motifs, two set in the middle, divided by one green band in the center, which accompanies its two neighboring blues accentuated by two smaller white bands on each side. The outside columns are only half seen, cropped by the painting’s left and right edges. In addition to the quiet movement of the supple leaves set against their hard edge vertical bands, one notices at once an exquisite control of tonality that endows the picture with spatial depth and tension. Similarly, in the succession of nearly identical tree trunks that one detects in “The First Glimpse,” “Following the Path,” and “Mutual Pleasure,” there is a paradigm shift from organic to architectural growth. The verticals and their branches shudder up and down in unsynchronized mutations that, again, unify their pictorial presence with a less insistent pace and frenzy. This also applies to “Lights of Darkness” and several drawings, particularly “Nights in August” and “A Touch of Fall.”

Compared to the painter’s last two exhibits at the Morgan Lehman Gallery, this new body of work has taken a big leap in the expanded growth while asserting their collective presence. As Rousseau once stated, “The nature of things does not madden us—only ill will does.” Perhaps the intrinsic awareness of the interrelation between things stems from Santibañez’s pantheistic view of the world—nature is her spiritual equivalent of an immanent abstract God enabling her to buckle down with immense patience and be the master gardener she is.


Phong Bui