Letters I didn’t write
10 Dec 2020 - 23 Jan 2021|
Charlie Smith London|
Concha Martínez Barreto presents a stunning collection of paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture and a diptych formed of erased antique letters.
The diptych, titled ‘A letter to the son and a letter to the daughter’, is a critical work in the exhibition. The letters, originally written in 1943 by a mother to her son, represent a mode of communication that is rarely employed today, and which is both intimate and enduring. However, Martínez Barreto apparently disrupts both their permanence and the original intention by personally erasing sections of text. In doing so, she creates new meaning and arguably reveals a hitherto undisclosed subtext, whilst adopting another’s reinterpreted words as her own.
The sculptural work ‘Bird’ is a deeply autobiographical piece. The artist has often adopted birds as motifs to signify innocence and fragility. In this example, an outsized sparrow carved from linden wood lies recumbent, subtly humanized in its form and directly in its painted eyes, which recalls the ancient tradition of Egyptian statue making. Also referencing the Catholic sculptural tradition of Spain and the pietà, Martínez Barreto’s bird is not about life or death but rather the feeling of being alive and dead at the same time. It represents vulnerability but also resilience.
The exhibition is completed by two drawings and a series of photographs. Both sets of work embrace the familiar, which is subverted by fragmentation. Misplaced or missing drawn elements; or small vintage photographs inserted into apertures within larger appropriated photographic images unsettle and disorientate. In ‘The Tunnel’ a woman lies on a bed smiling. A photograph of a tunnel is substituted for part of her face and the tunnel renders her eye socket skull-like. The subject becomes deathly and the tunnel suggests a journey toward the interior self.
In totality, Martínez Barreto’s work is redolent with implied narrative and disguised autobiography. Indeed, the exhibition as a whole and each individual piece within can be considered a letter that Martínez Barreto did not write.