A Spanish Artist Captures New York in Spontaneous Sketches and Whimsical Gifs

The title of the latest show by Cristina de Miguel—“Extraños en la noche intercambiando miradas” (“Strangers in the night exchanging glances”)—hints at what to expect from the youthful Spanish artist in her new collection. De Miguel’s work is exuberant and spontaneous, infused with a playful sense of humor, unbound by conventional standards or expectations. She works on impulse, and to great acclaim: her well-received solo show at Freight + Volume over the summer garnered her another show at the gallery’s edgy Arts+Leisure project space in East Harlem, New York.

Born in Seville, de Miguel received her BFA in Spain before completing an MFA at Pratt Institute. Her work tells the story behind the bullet-point credentials—that of a young woman experiencing New York in all its glories and challenges. She mines her own personal life for subject matter; her sketches and gifs portray everyday people in a range of motions, from the naked man swinging a tennis racket in Tennis to a caricature-like figure dropping his boxer shorts under a winking moon in Moonlight Glance (all 2014). While her sketches are, of course, static, depicting a fixed image, as in Skater or Una tarde de paseo en el bosque (An afternoon of walking in the forest), her whimsical gifs are a different medium entirely, allowing de Miguel to tell short stories and vignettes in a relaxed format on the gallery walls. The vibrant Hat Dancer, for instance, shows the agile motions of a street performer; in contrast, Equilibrista depicts a high-wire performer stumbling to the ground. The humorously crude Digestive System shows the passage of a chicken drumstick through a corpulent man’s body and Smoking Genie portrays a cartoonish genie emanating from a magic lamp, complete with baseball cap and cigarette.

There’s a hint of the neo-expressionist here—whether graceful or awkward, de Miguel’s works are expressive and rebellious, dreamy yet grounded in reality. She may have taken inspiration from Schnabel, Clemente, or Miguel de Barcelo, but at the end of the day, de Miguel’s work is crisp and thoroughly original. As she’s said, “paintings have the right to be what the painter wants them to be.”

 —Bridget Gleeson

“Extraños en la noche intercambiando miradas” is on view at Arts+Leisure, Dec. 16, 2014–Jan. 18th, 2015.

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