Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Biography: Marcelo Novo

Buenos Aires native Marcelo Novo (b. 1964) lives in Alexandria, Va., where he moved from Columbia, S.C., in 2010.  Since his move, Novo has been in group exhibitions at the Argentine embassy in Washington, D.C., the Argentine consulate in New York City, and the Columbia (S.C.) Museum of Art. His 2014 solo exhibition Here, There, Somewhere was at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus. Marcelo Novo: Materia Gris was in 2011 at Columbia’s if ART Gallery, as was in 2008 Marcelo Novo: Buenos Aires/Columbia, SC, 1985-1994. Novo, who in 1992 moved from Argentina to Columbia, has been in dozens of exhibitions along the East Coast and elsewhere, including at New York City’s Cinque Gallery; the Fayetteville (N.C.) Museum of Art; the DeLand (Fla.) Museum of Art; the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, N.C.; the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia; and the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif. Novo’s ten-year retrospective was in 2003 at the Sumter (S.C.) Gallery of Art.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Essay: Marcelo Novo

Sideways, 2005
Acrylic on canvas
11 x 14 in.

Marcelo Novo: Buenos Aires/Columbia, S.C., 1985-1994 
by Wim Roefs

When painter Marcelo Novo in 1992 moved from his native Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Columbia, S.C., he already was headed for what would become his signature style. The paintings and prints in this exhibition show his development from atmospheric, monochromatic, sculptural and architectural, abstract paintings to figure-oriented, often colorful work with rounded, voluminous forms and a Magic-Realist bend. 

The exhibition also shows that Novo (b. 1963), who earned a printmaking degree in Argentina, produced a large body of prints early in his career. They included etchings, drypoints, monotypes, lithos, linocuts and combinations of these techniques. Immediately after his arrival in Columbia, Novo produced many prints at the University of South Carolina as a guest artist and later an assistant to Boyd Saunders. 

The paintings from 1985-1987 show the influence of Novo’s mentor in Argentina, Roberto Aizemberg (a.k.a. Aizenberg). The works are dominated by sculptural and architectural formations in barren spaces, not unlike much of Aizemberg’s works, though Novo’s have a more organic feel. Two of the works, Tango and La Novicia, both from 1987, foreshadow Novo’s eventual turn toward the figure. 

The boxing paintings of 1988, produced in Madrid, Spain, firmly established the figure. In these paintings, Novo developed the first stage of his typical rendering of human faces, establishing their features through busy squiggles reminiscent of tubes or coils. The paintings are distinct in Novo’s oeuvre because of their painterly quality and the degree to which the narrative is straightforward and developed and the scenes, realistic.

In the next three years, Novo’s work incorporated many early features while moving toward his signature approach. Space, indoors and outdoors, open or architectural, often remained vital. The figure was by now established, with coil faces a dominant feature. But the figuration became more fanciful. Bold colors entered the fray, as did the Magic Realism, even Surrealism, for which Novo would become known. Madre Con Hijo, 1990, Exodo and Puede El Tiempe Ser Tan Cruel?, both of 1991, illustrate the shift. So does the magisterial Claro De Luna of 1990, which in many respects might be the seminal piece of Novo’s early years.

After his move to Columbia, Novo initially veered between past and future. The painterly El Mensaje, 1992, relates to the earlier period, also because of the squiggly faces. Arbol, 1992, and Mon Jardin, 1993, are truly organic but show the large, geometric form against empty space of which Aizemberg was so fond. In Pole Dance of 1992, the tube-like facial squiggles are less squiggly and more stabilized and circular. The painting moves toward Novo’s later, more broadly and fully rendered, rounder faces, a development that became pronounced in many 1993-1994 paintings and prints. Works of this period, including Dive, El Triunfo De Poncho and La Domadora also introduced the rounded, voluminous figures and shapes that are by now vintage Novo.

April 2008 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Essay: Marcelo Novo


Wim Roefs

Going with the flow is inherent to Marcelo Novo’s automatist approach to painting, in which he lets his subconscious take over. That subconscious is going new places these days. Novo’s work is sparser than before, certainly in terms of pallet but often also with respect to visual content and compositional complexity. 

The compositions in Novo’s “Grey Series” at times remain complex and rich in detail, but the pallet consists of shades of grey only. In the “Contrast Series,” the compositions are straightforward and the pallet, limited. The contrast is between the solid background in hot pink, bright blue or mustard-yellow and the grey-toned, isolated figures and objects set against them. Novo has produced sparse paintings before but not as a sustained body. 

There are also more paintings in which the figure doesn’t take center stage even as human presence does in the form of a hand or heart and on a psychological and symbolic level. The introduction of bars, pipes, and faucets is new to his repertoire, certainly as featured objects, as is the frequent appearances of the human heart. The compositional isolation of these common elements against a solid background, in combination with Novo’s already graphic and stylized approach, connects his work closer to Pop Art than before.

The new paintings also confirm his esthetic affinity with Fernand Léger. Novo shares the French artist’s interest in rounded forms and volume in a flat space. The initial impetus for these style forms was not Léger, though, but Latin American art, especially that of the Mexican muralists. “And I like Francis Bacon, the figures against large areas of flat color,” Novo says. “I like the impact. I have never been much attracted by more subtle pieces. It’s almost guttural.” 

Novo’s connection to Magic Realism and European Surrealism remains. A hand “holds” flowers without stems, a figure has a heart for a head, another figure tries to squeeze through a faucet. While he paints whatever his subconscious would have him paint, Novo’s automatism, a Surrealist method, takes place within certain parameters. His general mood over weeks might be in favor of certain size canvases, and he tends to mix colors in large batches, which he doesn’t want to waste. Such restrictions do not affect what he paints, just what is available to paint with. “Automatism,” he says, “that freedom to just paint what comes, is liberating.” 

What comes is often autobiographical. His laughing men remind Novo of Al Jolson, one of his father’s favorites, and of Carlos Gardel, the early-20th century tango singer who’s still a pop phenomenon in Novo’s native Argentina. His figures’ large hands are those of his grandmother. “I can still remember the feel of her hands holding me.” Flowers resembling vaginas and sensual couples reflect his own sexuality, Novo says. “I am a very sexual person and that shows in my work sometimes.” And the water and the pipes it flows through could be about healing and health issues, Novo thinks. His mother became ill and his father died a few years back, which might have triggered such concerns. The water is also about “Catharsis,” a ballet Novo developed earlier this year. “I am basically influenced by anything I see and experience. Everything is recorded and could come out when I am painting.”