By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBITION: Isabel Zaldivar, featured artist at Second April Galerie for the month of August, at 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. (330) 451 – 0924 www.secondapril.org
Seeing the ten mixed media paintings by Isabel Zaldivar nestled together in a front corner at Second April Galerie, I am reminded of both what I’ve always admired in her work as well as what I’ve increasingly found to be somewhat problematic. For a considerable number of years, Zaldivar has been among Canton’s most consistently visible and, I think it’s accurate to say, marketable/marketed artists, deservedly accumulating many accolades. And as these works indicate, she remains comfortably settled into a brand of sorts - a visual hybridization of representational and abstract languages. While many area artists have ventured into such dialects, Zaldivar’s are usually and uniquely recognizable enough.
Her paintings can often dazzle with their seemingly magical transitions from misty, liquid color atmospherics into mesmerizing, earthy textures - ranging from intriguingly delicate to impressively muscular - that have a sculpted presence. Yet those gorgeous textures can often be more purely illusory visual effects than they are actually tactile.
Zaldivar’s most compelling works have always been those wherein representational images are very subtly integrated hints rather than overt afterthoughts. Here, for example, I wonder if the distinct fish forms in Nature of the Sea, while charmingly rendered, were really necessary at all. It’s a recurring question I’ve had with many of her works through the years – this unresolved tension between the obvious and the implied, between the specific and the suggested. On the other hand, no such irresolution spoils her stunning Land Formations (pictured below), a tour-de-force of Zaldivar spectacle.
This group of paintings also brings to mind questions I’ve had about scale and presentation. For the most part, Zaldivar appears to have been working in “manageable” or “intimate” scales that may or may not be dictated by her particular methodology and materials. While she can certainly handle small picture planes in a big, sweeping way, she presents them so pristinely imprisoned under glass and in state-of-the –art designer frames that their visceral impact is easily squelched (not so, by the way, with her very tiny and gorgeous, Oriental-feeling Canna here), turning them into pretty bourgeois baubles for the living room. And this is certainly not to denigrate anyone’s personal choices as to the art they choose to adorn their homes.
Still, maybe Zaldivar’s pictures want to be bigger, less formulaic and safe, more risky. Or maybe the artist feels that after all this time if it ain’t busted why fix it. In any event, she has the creative capacity, gifted as she is with remarkable formal dexterity and color sensibility, to transcend the pleasantly precious and venture into more profound realms. It is a capacity not fully realized. Yet.