Browsing Marina Saleme’s book, which gathers a significant part of over twenty years of work, one has the opportunity to construct a sort of open narrative of her works. It is possible to comprehend her path from a synchronic series of images and events that reveal a sometime constant flow in her painting. Her trajectory is impressive not only for its coherence or for its internal identity, but due to the fact that while her more recent works may be seen as an unfolding of her first, they are also independent, free and clearly distinguished from the previous.
Throughout her own course the artist produced paintings that differ from one another but do not oppose each other since they carry within themselves a seed, a generating potency of the forthcoming. At the end of the 1980’s, for example, strong elements emerge in her canvas, a balustrade, structures that bar the view (Untitled, 1989, diptych). Later, the balustrades end at the person’s feet and serve as benches. These structures remain in paintings such as Sky of Souls, 1995, and may be also found as a parapet between the floor and the abyss in paintings such as Square, 2008. In two of the images of Counters (of the doors series), of 2006, they could already be rediscovered.
It is not a deliberate project of the artist to maintain a few elements in order to attain unity between works of different periods, but actually a latter perception which may only be achieved through a retrospective eye, which is not the same as that of someone working before a canvas. Instead of recovering loose threads throughout her trajectory, certain elements indirectly pursue and surprise her by their recurrence.
In a similar manner, the humid nodules or the lumps present in drawings such as The Outing, 1995, became puddles, cavities and later heavy clouds from which runs a black liquid. The difference lies with the fact that sometimes they are elements that contain the liquid, coves, forms in which there is a force that privileges concentration, and sometimes they are wounds that leak, overflow, run and make the liquid disperse or shed away at sea, as in the Holders series, 2003. Slowly, the liquid element, or the dense and concentrated forms in the artist’s works become heavier to a certain degree in which they become uncontainable.
It is from this movement that seemingly appears the recurrent notion of rain found in Drops, 1999, or of a dense and heavy sky which is about to collapse as in Blast, 2001. Still, the rain is also derived from a grid that structures the painting, an erasure that resulted in a defacing of the canvas. The gesture of scratching, which emerges as an annulment, slowly became a live and organic element. In some paintings, such as Fortune, 2009 and Night, 2009, as well as in many of latter works, the cloud and the rain that were figures became background. Truthfully, Marina Saleme’s paintings seem to undo the rule that for every perceived figure there is a background. The intermediate space of intense coloring between figures is the lead of various works. It is the luminosity of the color that structures the paintings and more than merely fills in spaces, but rather sustains the whole composition. Still, in her recent works, such as Sweet Night, 2010, what sustains the heavy elements, the heavy clouds, are the intertwined curved lines.
In more recent paintings by the artist, from the distinct colors and shapes appear constant lines of intertwined curved movements. Each brushstroke entwines with the other and the next and between them emerge masses of color which laid in the deep or that maybe came later. Instead of straight structures composed of lozenges, as in Wounds, 2001, Alice, 2001, or Gullet, 2001 performed at Centro Universitário Mariantonia, her recent paintings are full of arabesques; between one point and the other there are more deviations, curves and ornaments. The drawing emerges from the background’s scheme, from the encounter of colors, the plentiful and the hollowed. It acquires autonomy as if free from its origin, even if the line sometimes returns to its departure point, to its primeval source, and effaces.
This erasing in Marina Saleme’s works is also a constant that was maintained and modified throughout the last twenty years or so. It indicates that there is something between that which was erased and the new gesture, an indicator that makes present something that is no longer there. What matters is not specifically the literal function of a correction, but the meaning of a remaking, a return to a preceding stage which should be precluded by linear time and goal, since the return assumes a consciousness not before achieved.
Since, in principle, there are no mistakes in art once there is no pre-defined grammar, it is not the case of erasing an erred element, but of constructing by denying, revealing by removing. Especially in the case of Marina Saleme, the painting process occurs by an overlapping of layers. It is then that figures emerge, are covered and repainted. Thus, the density of the space increases according to the addition of paint.
The Self-Portraits series, 2009, by Marina Saleme, helps us to shed light on the notion of erasing. When the artist paints a stain over her mouth or removes the definition of the lines of her face she is not only denying her silhouette or muffling herself, but actually revealing the very silence from where any possible speech originates. Within the erasing we find a manifest absence which demands perception, the invisible that sustains visibility.
The erasing in her works is a constant recommencing, an incessant search. Everything occurs as if the solutions were already within the painting, in the core of the canvas and were partially recovered. The depth of the painting is reversely woven by a movement from the deep towards the surface and vice-versa. Still, in this process, contrary to the mechanism of a computer screen, not all “imperfections” are erased. The memory of the formation of the painting remains present even after the work is deemed finished.
In spoken language, even if an orator corrects a phrase or a mispronounced term, the damage is done. There is no possibility of going back in time and correcting the speech. In painting, the process is analogous, but since the public does not closely accompany its elaboration, what is seen is a number of simultaneous layers from the most opaque to the most transparent. In face of Marina Saleme’s painting, it is not possible to clearly ascertain the correct order of what came first or last. The time of her paintings is not linear, but rather a profusion of simultaneous periods, as if past, present and future were gathered into the same work. The painting appears as an ensemble of synchronic acts, which do not appear by means of an evolutionary process. Every brushstroke coincides on the canvas, even if submerged and covered by others, and resumes past paintings and those still to come. It is a present that carries part of the process from which it was originated and also, a small part of the future: the reception of the work.
The monumental Behind this all, 2009, a synthesis in which much of the artist’s vocabulary reappears (clouds/ puddles that merge with arabesques, rain and effaced figures), clearly provides the perception that the human figures before us are as ghosts. That does not mean we witness them only as deprived from reality, as an imagining, but also as a sensitive and concrete phenomenon. The figures are in disguise, but are there, as shadows, to the point that the interval between them is even more or as important than themselves. They are presentifications of absences, figures that will exist, continue existing and have existed.
The order of time in Marina Saleme’s work, when suggestive of a chronology, tends to a regressing succession. Generally used when much expected events are about to occur, such as new years, or the upcoming of a special event, the countdown tends always toward the initial element of a series, to zero, to the representation of absence. Counters, 2006 refers to a non-accumulation implied by the return to traversed stages. More than the mere verification of the lack of permanence of things, the work brings a conception about an inexorable cyclicity of time. In them, distinct periods may be not only connected, but simultaneous.
The recurrence of certain figures in her paintings and photographies suggests a long process of construction including progress, retrogress and a continued unfolding within itself. This return to its starting point, to its point of departure, helps us to understand the movement of her pondering. Part of her works is populated by tenuous shapes, gravestones and emptiness. Besides the hollowing element, it is possible to perceive certain structures that block the vision and pinpoint the end of a path or maybe its beginning.
Some of Marina Saleme’s painting is also made from her photography, which in its own course emerged as an unfolding of her pictorial reasoning and is therefore less an ends than a means. Her paintings have a more fluid appearance than that of the photos and possess dozens of layers of paint. In them, what is made is unmade and is several times remade until a result that could not be projected is achieved since it emerges throughout the progression of the work. It is as if there were a possibility of a reversion of the process to its preceding stage, but in doing this something different occurs.
While the paintings benefit by the overlaying and thickening of the substance, demanding a slower time, the series of photographies – maybe with exceptions such as the large photo which is beforehand a painting – possess an instant aspect. What happens is that the artist reencounters in the world certain structures that were constructed into her painting and thus returns to the origin of her research, to the departure point. It is the reversibility and the possibility of mirroring that enriches her pictorial space. Sometimes ethereal, other times thick, her production possesses an ambiguity that will not be content to abide by previous definitions.
Without ever abdicating of the figure, Marina Saleme’s work is beyond the traditional scheme that operates by the opposition of figuration and abstraction. As if abstract art were free of the representation that figuration could never abandon. Representing an image that corresponds to something out of viewing range is here confused with the presentation: the manner in which the artist’s work allows itself to be known without appealing to something exterior to it. These works are what we see, an own materiality; but at the same time, they do not abandon that which could be present in them and is still to come or that which is in between each of them.
Abstraction is traditionally associated to the isolation of an object, removing it from its relation to other elements, depriving it of its concreteness. Abstraction is, therefore, alienation, an unfolding within while removing emphasis of that which is scattered around the object. Figuration, on the other hand, is to trace an outline, demonstrate, and give meaning to forms making them recognizable or at least analogous to nature or culture. What Marina Saleme does should not be rigorously associated to mere abstractions or figurations, but something in between one and the other. Her works have an indetermination that hinders staunch classifications. While her works carry a regression within, a certain reflexivity; a structurally isolated element, as the above mentioned balustrade, may be perceived as a figure, a bench or a parapet in latter works. The same occurs in regards to the intervals between the human figures that are as abstract figurations. Here lies on of the enigmas of her trajectory.
It is of that which lays in between that the painting feeds off, between the meaningful and the meaning, the erased figure and its return, the explicit and the implicit. The artist makes visible that what may exist between the necessary, that could not be different, and the contingent, the undetermined, which is pure liberty, a forthcoming.
The narrative that emerges from Marina Saleme’s course is not one with an introduction, middle and an end, one with a predictable development; much to the contrary, it is one with an internal history suitable to her work. Each work clears way for the next because it resumes something from its predecessor, something that is literally absent from it, that is perceived as a flaw and that will be completed by the new upcoming work. And this pathway to the next emerges from the excess of meaning in each painting, which is precisely the possibility of viewing it from an unpredictable angle, in other words, pure overture.