June 30–August 12, 2023
We see the figures that populate the settings of Guim Tió’s Roots far off. The artist evokes the unlearning that the land can do to our bodies—and the unforming of identity that happens when we find ourselves in foreign lands. We seem to be dealing with this unforming of isolated bodies participating in activities of leisure on vacation. Within the structure of this motif, the artist explores both the exhilaration and isolation experienced when far from home, when setting out. The sense of distance and outward-bound disassociation is rendered with a sensitive facture of painting, one that channels a language of sincerity that deals with the landscape in a similar way to the artists who engaged with it between Post-Impressionism and the New York School. Where previous artists have used this language to address the alienating forces of Modernism, Tió has focused our attention on the isolated experience of the bourgeoisie flâneur, the listless feelings of saudade in leisure and travel, that captures both our attraction to the experience of the vista and the ennui felt when alone in unfamiliar places.
In a limited and attenuated range of hues and affect, the artist addresses the experience of hotel rooms, ski slopes, lakes—rooms and landscapes rendered in patches of soft, scrubbed-in hues that meet to form hard edges. In paintings like El riu calmat (all works 2023), the landscape is observed and respected in this handling, expressed through a shifting harmony of muted tones that feel pieced back together after being torn apart. Tió’s landscapes of torn paper shapes make a broken horizon of stack, lean, and lintel. In Anada (2023) the ridge piles up, earth folds, sediment and verdun grass are stratified and sliding into shifting shales of color. Coral, pale violet, and viridian settle into their jigsaw crevices to form ravines unto themselves against skies of red madder or cobalt blue.
However, its desired effect negotiates ambivalence. It is against this use of color that we feel like we are on a long walk with few encounters on the trail. Within these spurling, isolated experiences are the bewildering and lonely journeys of weekends, and the feeling of them dwindling as they are felt. Tió’s is a pallid world without shadow or brilliant light. It carries the feeling of the last day of a trip, the hours spent with the thoughts of returning home veiled over each experience, its familiarity casting colors throughout each moment. It evokes one last dive in the lake; one last morning sleeping in; one last run before returning to the normalcy of what is already known. Each painting is a double moment—the time spent away experienced simultaneously with an undertow that pulls us back to what we know. It is the transitive moments where we feel we’ve waded too far out, feeling ready to return to repetition and routine. Revealed in this return is a slow, fading dusk, a setting light on the beauty and isolation of private landscapes and the harmonies that can be found between couples there, but also the great distance between skiers on the slope, cutting long trails in the snow, each finding their own way down.
Their penumbra makes them feel like they are vacations taken in the off-season. They are holidays experienced like diaries, acapella, removed from the crowded events of snowbirds or tourists. I heard Lucy Lippard say that you can spot tourists by their hand holding, and Tió switches back and forth between depicting isolated travelers and couples walking together. These paintings are airless and quiet, picking up the trail of artists who stuck with representation during the first half of the twentieth century. Hauntologies gather in the marks and lines that root Tió’s paintings to a lineage unfurling out from the shaping of the skies and landscape of Maurice Denis’s Rocher du Skevel (1893), that eventually realizes itself in America during and after World War II in the work of Fairfield Porter and others that sidestepped the New York School’s abstraction. It most directly reflects the painterly language of Milton and Sally Michel Avery, at times feeling like their continuation onward into our uncertain ecological present. Tió uses a similar color palette to Milton Avery’s Red Rock Falls (1947) and is interested in the distance of figures seen in Sea Gazers (1956).
It is important to remember their work for its handling of alienation—how the Averys’ horizons and the suburbs of Porter are rarely populated, emptied out from war or rural sprawl or both. In both cases there was a growing sense that the stillness of urbanization was tainted with something. This type of quiet detachment would later be expressed in Edward Hopper and Robert William Wood; but it is David Hockney and Eric Fischl (particularly his “Beach” paintings) that feel most relevant in Tió’s radius. In The reader, a woman sits and reads a book, but its title and cover never rise above abstract marks, restricting our ability to share in it with her. In Mama, the trope of a figure seen from behind literalizes the intended distance Tió seeks to establish. It carries a tradition from Gerhard Richter that cascades into the present through Julie Tuyet Curtiss, Sarah Miska, and others who have used the back of the head to suggest the mysterious ontologies of new materialism, the unknowability of the subject, the middle distance we are always kept at, and the gaps we are incapable of closing.
It most hits this colic of heart-heavy affect when the scale shifts to be an expanse, where figures dot the landscape that feels incapable of regarding them. There is a tender love to some of them, but the enormity of the landscape reduces it to the intertwined bones of Pompeii. They are seen far off, scoring the surface with their bodies like little ants forming trails in the earth and the snow; little threads of experience moving up and down the shore. Tió’s is a world of subtle, far-away sound; off shrinking away and growing towards the horizon, broken only by the soft sounds of footfall on sand and snow. It’s close but still unfathomable. There are no animals. As each experience fades, what is left behind is the way others make us feel in them; the soft interiors we retreat to together; and the company of others that holds back what seeks to encroach on us for as long as we can.