Audrey Barcio’s Under Influence is an exhibition that has to be seen in person to be understood.
The artist, originally from Lafayette, Indiana — now living in Chicago, Illinois — is a masterful writer of detail in the form of gestural painterly payoffs and nods to art history that are difficult to pick up through a camera’s lens.
The show is on display at Tube Factory artspace through April 14 and features 15 large Suprematism-inspired paintings, as well as two sculpture installations.
“Continuum,” inside the same room as the paintings, is composed of golden triangular beams with a mirrored finish stacked horizontally in the shape of a pyramid, while “Infinite Reflection” is an installation inside the room adjacent to the main gallery with two neon-lit mirror sculptures facing each other. A metronome marks the passing of time.
For this exhibition, Barcio combined her knowledge of art history with her personal history in art, which includes the experience of living next to her grandmother who was a painter.
“She was very influenced by modernism and in her library she had a Kazimir Malevich book,” says Barcio. “I remember being age four and being very inspired by it."
Since color blocks are a common visual component for children, the young Barcio recognized the images in the Malevich book. These same images became the main inspiration for the work created for Under Influence.
Barcio has been inspired by the idea of reduction through geometry — with all of art history as a starting point — ever since a college painting assignment where students were asked to abstract a famous work of art. Barcio used Photoshop to complete this particular assignment, and the process of utilizing technology as a means to achieve results in a historic medium — such as painting — stayed with her.
Photoshop is apparent conceptually in the backgrounds of Barcio’s paintings: Photoshop’s signature gray and white checkered canvas represents the void. Thus, her paintings reintroduce Malevich’s white void with contemporary visual vocabulary.
“It is very much what Malevich talks about with the white as the floating space,” says Barcio. “I feel there is a deep connection between the empty Photoshop canvas as an existential void and as space for things to lay on.”
The checkers are printed onto the canvas before it is stretched. It is then primed with clear gesso and taken off the stretcher for painting. Barcio staples the gessoed canvas to her studio walls and works on three to four paintings at a time using acrylic and flashe paint; she meticulously leaves some of the areas in the canvas unpainted or exposed.
The result is that, if not seen in person, the paintings can be mistakenly assumed to be computer-generated. Seeing them in person, viewers can appreciate the brushstroke marks and very beautiful painterly moments in some of the color fields. The texture also varies by ambling between glossy and matte and sometimes reflective with mica.
But audiences missing the details in artwork by skipping in-person experiences for digital interactions is not a new issue brought about by platforms like Instagram. Students have learned about art history through history books for a long time, confining their understanding of art to small flattened images that do not convey the emotion and movement one can only perceive by seeing work in person.
Barcio, who has a BA from Herron School of Art & Design, says that she has witnessed this issue first-hand: “It’s amazing how many people have said, ‘Oh, I know what the Mona Lisa looks like,’ and I would say, ‘Well how big do you think it is?’ They’ll describe it like a huge painting. You have to go see it in person. It is very life changing and spiritual for a young artist to see an artwork in person versus a book or JPEG.”
Standing between the mirror sculptures of “Infinite Reflection,” while listening to a ticking metronome set to the rhythm of a beating heart, really drives home the ideas working behind Under Influence. The viewer is brought into an infinite loop of looking forward and backwards to explore the same ideas of the void, time and space explored in the paintings.
“I feel that as a contemporary artist I need to keep asking, how do we continue to move forward and backwards in time?”