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Cristina de Miguel Forges Her Own Scrappy Path
Cristina de Miguel may have trained at a classically inclined art academy in Seville, Spain, but you’d be hard pressed to recognize that given the exuberant, large-scale paintings in “Absolutely Yours,” the artist’s debut solo show with Freight + Volume in New York. Indeed, the only vestige of her conservative schooling is a simple portrait of a young gentleman collaged onto “Lovestory,” a multifaceted painting depicting an imaginary studio wall hung with various sketches and studies. (There’s also an image of a devil-face De Miguel spotted graffitied onto a wall, and a rudimentary nature scene that she says was inspired by a residency at Skowhegan, in Maine.) The other paintings in the show are scenes that respond either to moments the artist has witnessed in New York, or to the act of painting itself. Abstract passages share space with weird slices of figuration, as in “La Noche,” which pairs a background pattern inspired by Andalusian tiles with a spraypainted image of a very unique French kiss. For “Candy Saga in the Subway,” De Miguel incorporated blobby forms derived from the popular smartphone game Candy Crush; another painting borrows its basic motif from a baccarat board.
While her studies at the University of Seville were fairly stultifying — “drawing from nude models for five years, the same thing,” she said — a year abroad in Athens expanded her horizons. There was more freedom in the studio there, and a well-stocked library that introduced her to painters — Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente — who had never been discussed in her classes in Spain. De Miguel left Spain in 2011 to earn an MFA at Pratt University in Brooklyn, and has been living and working in the city ever since — nearly all of the canvases in “Absolutely Yours” were completed since last fall. They bear the influence of her daily surroundings, as well as an ongoing exploration of painters who weren’t afraid to experiment with styles that border on the impolite and ragtag. “Two Bitches or Mother and Daughter” looks a bit like a DIY beauty-shop sign that one might find hanging in certain corners of Brooklyn, although in this case it seems to be advertising the familial joys of cigarette smoking. De Miguel completed it immediately after touring MoMA’s Sigmar Polke exhibition, keyed in to the early, commercially-inflected paintings of socks and sausages.
In the back of Freight + Volume there is a scrappy, multi-layered painting titled “Self-Portrait Wearing Jeans.” It depicts a flattened, two-dimensional vision of the artist wearing a cliched “I Love New York” tourist T-shirt; an actual paintbrush is glued into her hand and a thick red arrow shoots straight into her brain. She looks equal parts ecstatic and anxious; her arms hang nearly down to her kneecaps. It’s a rough and raw work, and given her background, it reads as a literal destruction of the formal training De Miguel cut her teeth on. It’s a portrait of the artist striving to clear a path for herself, even if things get a little messy.