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 

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