Clara Gràcia: The Emotive Power of Nature

Hidden Village, Paintings, 39 x 39

It has been noted elsewhere that while the Catalan artist Clara Gràcia often works on large canvases, her style is more lyrical than aggressive and does not tend to intimidate the viewer, as big paintings sometimes can. Indeed, standing before one of her paintings, the viewer is enveloped in effusions of color and light that have the warming effect of Mediterranean sunlight. In this regard, as well as for their lush beauty, Gràcia’s paintings share qualities in common with those of Joan Mitchell, that most gentle of Abstract Expressionists.
     However, one of the ways in which they differ is that Gràcia’s work is less abstract and more firmly rooted in landscape, combining the plein air freshness of the Impressionists with the heightened palette of the Fauves. Working with a palette knife rather than brushes, Gràcia piles on pigment in luscious abundance, like a confectioner applying frosting to a cake. Indeed, the texture of her paintings is reminiscent of Nicholas de Stael and the Canadian painter Jean Riopelle for its sensual tactile appeal.
    “Sumptuous” is the only word that can accurately describe her surfaces, particularly in an acrylic on canvas such as “Hidden Village,” where small rustic dwellings play hide-and-seek with the viewer behind the colorful, confetti-like leaves that dominate the foreground of the composition. Here, too, the sky is a breathtaking blue hue, hovering above earthy mountain ranges.
    Even while partaking of the naturalistic light of the Impressionists, Gràcia veers closer to the Fauves for the chromatic liberties that she takes in many of her compositions. For rather than simply transcribing the colors of the landscape to create a realistic impression, what she seems to strive for and succeeds admirably in evoking is the emotional impression that the landscape makes upon us.
    Thus she achieves an even deeper kind of reality which makes her pictures more affecting than if they simply duplicated the factual appearance of the visual data on hand. She will put pinks and yellows together in a way that nature might not dare in a particular scene, to create a sense of the interplay of sunlight and foliage or flowers in a manner that cannot be conveyed naturalistically. Looking at the perfect purity of her greens, or the earthiness of a deep shade of red, one can almost smell the freshness of mint, the odor of clay.  Through her strong instinct for color, Gràcia magically transmits to us the “extra-visual” qualities of nature, its mysteriously elusive components, even as she clearly delineates the contours of the mountains, the lay of the land.
    She is even capable of conveying a shimmering sense of heat by enveloping an entire landscape in a single fiery hue (albeit subtly accented, here and there, with touches of other, cooler colors, such as pale blue), as in the composition “Tramonto.” She brings this vibrant painting alive not only through her skillful blending of the luminous orange, red, pink and yellow hues that saturate the canvas, but also through the vigor of her staccato palette knife strokes, which enliven the surface and complete the sense of pulsing heat radiating from the solar orb sinking low above the hilly land masses silhouetted on the horizon line. Indeed in both her landscape and her floral still life compositions (the vitality of which give the lie to the term “nature morte”), Clara Gràcia proves herself to be a painter to contend with.
–– written by Byron Coleman 


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