Sandra Vásquez de la Horra at David Nolan Gallery
Chilean-born artist Sandra Vásquez de la Horra’s drawings are currently on view at the David Nolan Gallery in New York. In a show titled Entre el cielo y la tierra (Between heaven and earth), the figures and creatures that occupy her illustrations are amalgamations of biblical, mythological, and fantastical sources. Many of the drawings presented are new works, and a number are from her participation in the São Paulo Biennial last fall. - Nadiah Fellah, NYC Contributor
Sandra Vásquez de la Horra | El viaje de Olokum (Olokun's Journey), 2012, graphite on paper, wax, 40 x 28 1/2 inches, Courtesy David Nolan Gallery.
Vásquez de la Horra’s process, from sourcing her materials to her finished installation, is a unique one. She often scours flea markets for aged or unusual paper of varying sizes, quality and origin, sometimes using graph paper or sheets from accounting pads that bare distinct blue and pink lines at their margins. For this reason her drawings, although largely done in graphite with rare pops of color, are in an assortment of hues when hung together, ranging from grays to deep yellows and ochers. Vásquez de la Horra preserves their idiosyncratic colors by dipping each piece in wax after completing the drawing, a process that gives the works a matte sheen, and slightly dulls the graphite lines. In many ways the drawings invoke the vellum pages of illuminated manuscripts, books that became valuable enough to be torn apart and sold page by page if they were not mindfully preserved. So often the individual display of these ancient tomes’ pages create an eerie disconnect from their original context, a parallel that Vásquez de la Horra’s works conjure in their presentation.
The artist also designs each installation based on the exhibition space, hanging the works in different patterns and arrangements each time they are shown. At the David Nolan gallery they are hung in a kind of wave pattern, undulating across expanses of the gallery’s walls. This hanging inadvertently allows one to read the works narratively, moving from piece to piece as if following a storyboard or sequence of frames in a graphic novel. At times it seems that the creatures in each work are interacting with one another, climbing, crawling and soaring from one space into the next. Other works stand on their own as distinctive statements, and sometimes incorporate text, to humorous, baffling, or disturbing ends.
Although Vásquez de la Horra’s work is uniquely her own in many ways, her drawings also bring to mind those of the Swiss-German Modernist Paul Klee. An artist whose more figurative illustrations display the same fantastical creatures and whimsical tendencies of Vásquez de la Horra’s, Klee’s drawings were also sophisticated explorations of composition, line, and form. Klee’s artistic development during political duress is also a quality that the artists share, an experience that may have helped to shape their common imagery. Klee was teaching at the famed Bauhaus academy in Weimar, Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933. He was subsequently labeled a “degenerate artist” by the regime and forced to flee to Switzerland. Likewise, Vásquez de la Horra grew up in Chile under the Pinochet regime, a dictator that came to power via a violent military coup in 1973, and known for interning and torturing his political opponents in the tens of thousands.
Paul Klee | Die Hexe mit dem Kamm (The Witch with the Comb), 1922, print, lithograph, 12 13/16 x 8 3/8 inches.
Klee and Vásquez de la Horra’s shared interests in the role of the artist in society and in pressing political and social issues aligns their work in similar ways. The creation of images that fuel imaginative reflection on these weighty topics, as opposed to literal or didactic imagery, is also striking.
In the creation of the most recent suite of drawings on view, Vásquez de la Horra credits the writings of British conspiracy theorist David Icke, whose books draw on New Age spiritualism to weave eccentric theories about political systems and the human race. Most notably, Icke writes about a group of reptilian humanoids called the Babylonian Brotherhood, which he believes secretly control the world. Among those he alleges belong to this group are George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II. Vásquez de la Horra gestures towards the use of Icke’s theories in her drawings Reptiliana (Reptilian) and Memorias Lemurianas (Memories of the Lemurians), both of which feature figures with scale-like complexions.
Sandra Vásquez de la Horra | Reptiliana (Reptilian), 2012, graphite on paper, wax, 30 x 22 inches, Courtesy David Nolan Gallery.
Sandra Vásquez de la Horra | Memorias Lemurianas (Memories of the Lemurians), 2012, graphite on paper, wax, 30 x 22 inches, Courtesy David Nolan Gallery.
Vásquez de la Horra also drew source material from Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut, which was based on a 1926 book by the Austrian novelist Arthur Schnitzler, titled Dream Story. In it, the main character discovers a surreal, underground cult that performs ritualistic orgies and initiation rites while wearing masks with animal and celestial qualities. Vásquez de la Horra combines these influences with those of Icke’s writings in pieces like Orgia reptiliana II (Reptilian Orgy II), an unintended conflation that she says was the result of her own dreams while cleansing and detoxing recently.
Sandra Vásquez de la Horra | Orgia reptiliana II (Reptilian Orgy II), 2012, graphite on paper, wax, 30 x 44 1/4 inches, Courtesy David Nolan Gallery.
Sandra Vásquez de la Horra’s drawings engage with history and popular culture in ways that are both psychologically and emotionally charged. Her varied sources of inspiration and idiosyncratic style of drawing, along with the sheer quantity of works shown, makes for a stunning group of works that are both enigmatic and haunting.
Sandra Vásquez de la Horra | Entre el cielo y la tierra (Between heaven and earth), 2012, graphite on paper, wax, 39 3/8 x 55 1/8 inches, Courtesy David Nolan Gallery.
Born in 1967, Sandra Vásquez de la Horra is originally from Viña del Mar, Chile, where she attended the University for Design, and graduated in 1995. She attended the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Germany from 1995 to 2002, working under artists Jannis Kounellis and Rosemarie Trockel. Vásquez de la Horra currently works and lives in Berlin, Germany.
Entre el cielo y la tierra is on view at the David Nolan Gallery through February 16th.
Nadiah Fellah is a graduate student of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY in New York