Ana Fernandez makes her local debut at Joan Grona Gallery this month with large oil paintings in which cars and houses sit in a neighborhood that promises the familiarity of home but delivers a rather uncanny air drifting through the trees. If you often happen to live in paintings, the wind shouldn’t blow too harshly.
Fernandez has exhibited paintings from this series in Chicago and Los Angeles, where her scenes depicting San Antonio residences were read as filled with brujaría, a bit of Latina witchiness. The oddly shaped balloons and floating creatures are riffs on figures that the artist has taken from Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings, a group of ghoulish works done after the atrocities of the Napoleonic Wars had rendered the artist a bitter old man. Under the guidance of Fernandez, however, the warnings of doom have more a Halloween or Día de los Muertos appeal, and seem to tease the viewer with impending pranks that won’t harm. Dark scenes are theatrically lit, dark rings around Krieg-lit centers hone the eye to find jokes that the painter has made to herself, like the word “Goya” written slanted on the front of a house.
The biggest prank, however, is Fernandez’ messing with aspects of perspective, enhanced by double vision. She has placed what seem to be two gray iron dogs between columns of leaves in what should be the foreground of the painting Caninus. They are rendered a bit fuzzy, out of focus, countering convention and fuddling with the illusion of depth. The twin cars in the middle space appear strangely crisper, reversing expectations of the near and the far. It is subtly done, however, as both the two dogs and two white cars, twinned in absurd opposing pairs, dominate the scene, a hint that this is not a painting of your mother’s house, but perhaps might be René Magritte’s doorstep.
Fernandez uses symmetry to buffo effect in other paintings, too. A house seems folded in on itself, two more twin cars are joined by matching windows with hearts; even the sky is mirrored down the center.
In contrast to the oils, small gouache works display a quick, deft hand that hints of glamour and a commercial sketch at photorealism. The style would work well with upscale advertising copy. The oils eschew this display of flash, often figuring small details in a smear. Trained at The Art Institute of Chicago and UCLA, Fernandez, who was born in Corpus Christi, has recently returned to Texas from Los Angeles. She has also taken up again her peculiar style of realism after a sojourn in California abstraction that helped net her MFA. The paintings in the show are pleasing enough — she had almost sold out before the opening — but hopefully Fernandez will not allow her work to halt in what is certainly a signature style. Enjoyable painting, it seems to promise yet more. •
Ana Fernandez: New Paintings
Noon-5pm Tue, 11am-5pm Wed-Fri, 11am-6pm Sat
On view through Feb 28
112 Blue Star