Varda Caivano. By Terry R. Myers.
Our profile on the British-Argentine artist, whose paintings exist somewhere on the edge of nameability.
I could argue that Varda Caivano has in productive and meaningful ways been painting versions of the same painting – her painting – ever since I first met her in 2002, soon after she had started the MA in Painting course at the Royal College of Art, London, and I had begun a two-year stint there as visiting professor of painting. Writing this now, I am looking at the small takeaway card she produced for the RCA’s degree show in 2004. On the front is an image of one of her paintings from that exhibition; on the reverse her name, email address (now changed) and mobile number (still the same). Anyone who has paid attention to Caivano’s work over the past decade would immediately recognise this painting as hers. Like most of her work from that time, Untitled, 2004 (it was included in her 2006 Kunstverein Freiburg exhibition), is a smallish canvas (51 by 41 cm), in this case a vertical one. Painted in oil (she would switch to acrylic for two years while pregnant), it pieces together what can be best described as moments of muted colours (blues, greens, yellows, purples and several browns) to make a roughly ovoid shape that takes up all but the left and bottom edges of the canvas. It presents itself as a contemplative accumulation of gentle contradictions, as it is somehow as clear about its ambiguity as it is equivocal about its clarity, fully present yet perpetually in a state of becoming (she’s very, very good at putting down paint that appears material and ethereal all at once), a painting that discusses abstraction, the landscape and/or the body while being all and none of those things itself.
I’ve used ‘discusses’ above on purpose. At first because my conversations with Caivano between 2004 and 2006, while I commuted from Los Angeles, were, of course, discontinuous, each time very much not picking up from wherever we left off, but instead retracing steps from our prior conversations to enter into the new work at hand, finished or not. I do remember that the paintings from the beginning had achieved a level of continuity that is not common even in the work of strong painting students (if only because too many people, including myself, provide contradictory feedback), evidence of her early commitment to a level of focus and a type of simmering development that has served her work very well ever since. Then there is the way in which Caivano regularly describes her paintings, most recently in The Independent: ‘I think the paintings are like thoughts.’ Put another way; thinking about thoughts is, in itself, always a discussion...