In Kindred Paintings, Two Cousins Take the Ocean as Inspiration
It’s fitting that Sorelle Gallery Fine Art’s latest show, “Toedora Guererra & Julia Contacessi: Cousins in Life, Sisters in Art,” is built around a familial relationship—after all, “sorelle” means “sisters” in Italian. And the connection between the two featured artists, like that between many sisters or cousins, is layered and complex, characterized by shared tendencies and intriguing contrasts.
On a first glance at the exhibition, you’ll notice the similarities. You’d even be forgiven for assuming that the paintings were produced by a single artist. The works featured in the show are all abstract, medium- to large-format, and many employ an oceanic palette of deep blues and frothy, textural whites. And, generally speaking, they’re titled with literal descriptors, as in Contacessi’s Fleeting Light (2015) or Guererra’s Treading Water (2014).
A closer examination reveals disparities, however subtle, that hint at the artists’ individual identities. A few works stand out for their eye-catching colors, like the rich vermilion and vibrant lime green of Palm Beach Sunset (2014), or the delicate, dripping metallics of Peacock’s Gold (2015). These two, both oils, are Guererra’s. The artist revels in what she calls the “sexy, luminous” quality of oil paint, and names risk-taking artists Henri Matisse and Pat Steir as her primary influences. “The dripping of paint can be spontaneous or designed,” Guererra has said, “but ultimately, there is always the exciting element of chance.”
Contacessi, in contrast, prefers the control and precision of acrylic paint and mixed media, and works almost exclusively with the theme of the ocean. She’s taken a cue from the likes of Helen Frankenthaler and Patricia Larsen, creating dreamy fields of water and sky, often indistinguishable from one another. Despite the familiar subject, however, these works remain abstract—they often read as manifestations of the sea’s atmosphere rather than depictions of the water itself. In some of Contacessi’s canvases, there is hardly any blue or green at all. Blushing Breeze (2015), for example, is a study in whites, Crosscurrent (2015) has a hint of the metallic, and Plume (2015) features striking violet hues. These paintings represent just a moment in time for an artist who is always experimenting. “I love to explore the contrasting nature of things,” Contacessi has said. “Right now, I’m using metallics and mixing them with more textured and matte paints…[that are] more gritty and reflective of nature.”
Guererra and Contacessi’s artworks are grounded in a shared context, related but distinct, never fixed but always changing in small, almost imperceptible ways—like two sisters.
“Toedora Guererra & Julia Contacessi: Cousins in Life, Sisters in Art” is on view at Sorelle Gallery, New Canaan, Jul. 21–Aug. 19, 2015.