Christian Rosa won’t be for everyone. The Brazilian artist’s recently opened solo show at White Cube, Mason’s Yard is a weighty display, playing with the most radical elements of painting and mark making. They are works to get lost in, that are likely to appeal to lovers of extreme modernism only.
But if this kind of work does float your boat, he does it mind-blowingly well. There is a bold and overriding emptiness that many artists would shy away from and he makes few marks, with a limited colour palette. The lines and marks he does produce manage to appear both playfully spontaneous and economically intended. Rosa’s work moves on from the early 20th Century painters, with bursts of Mondrian-like colour popping from the canvases - in contrast to their stark backgrounds - and a round vitality to his lines not dissimilar to Miro.
The balance between play and emptiness is a difficult one to get right, and it’s rare to find both elements taking hold of a painting at once. Many of the moments of play are typical of his home country’s painting style, warm and impulsive and there’s almost a street influence to the freedom of some of the lines and forms. The textures and body of the materials themselves are also delved into, with buttery thick areas of paint, deep oil stains around coloured marks, and raw, untreated canvases. It is the balance of real energy and bold void that gives Rosa’s work an entirely original aesthetic.
It’s interesting to see the effect that these works have on the space around them. The show itself is curated simply, giving each canvas space to take hold of the wall on which they’re hung. The canvases loom down upon the viewers, becoming architectural and at one with the space. I saw the show when the gallery was completely empty, and it was interesting to see the lines, spaces and forms made between each of the canvases, as well as their relation to the vast, cold walls and floors.
The downstairs space in particular is powerfully curated, with larger blocks of paint fighting with loud lines and squiggles, facing each other down on opposing walls. The dead silence in the rooms makes the marks and lines resonate from the work, with a kind of musicality. I also saw the show on the day of the solar eclipse, when London outside was grey, dark and heavy, whilst a precise and beautiful natural occurrence was taking place. This seemed mirrored in the work, joyous, stunning outbursts struck through a much larger surface of grey, weighty canvas.
This kind of painting delivers an exciting new development on from the world of high modernist painting. With colour, form and line drawn right back over the years, it’s often difficult to find this kind of painting breaking out into different paths. It often just keeps veering down the path of simplicity. It’s already been pushed to the point of apparent completion on many points, gradually breaking down all of the elements that have traditionally made up a painting.
What is interesting with Rosa’s work is that is breaths new life into these ideas, taking them not further down the path they were headed, but taking many elements and adding a feeling of young spontaneity that could spell a new kind of painting. The weighty stillness present in many modernist works is used, and pushed through to a conclusion that it both lively and still at the same time.
Christian Rosa - Put Your Eye in Your Mouth will be running until 23rd May at White Cube, 25-26 Mason’s Yard, SW1Y 6BU London
Words by Emily Steer