In this monthly series we will pick a piece from the Schwartz Art Collection to discuss in the hopes of starting conversations about art on campus and beyond. We don’t claim to be experts, just fans of interesting art excited to talk about what we see.
VS: For our second installment, we’ve chosen Lino Lago’s Untitled (Boy with Paint), which can be seen in the Lounge on the first floor of Spangler. We’ve been told that this is the special Love Edition of the Harbus – so, Rob, where is the love in this painting?
RBN: Well, one of my favorite aspects of this painting is how tender it feels. I always try to sit by it when I am in Spangler because it brings me peace of mind amidst the busyness of HBS life. One might expect the juxtaposition of the realistically depicted child and the brash abstract streaks of color to feel more jarring. But the impression I get instead is a peaceful one, of a child asleep and dreaming.
VS: You really do feel the tenderness of the piece from the detailed care with which the boy has been depicted.
RBN: And that’s no accident. I had the chance to catch up with the artist, Lino Lago, the other day by email. It turns out that the painting is of his son, Lukas. Lago told me that the experience of being a father really influenced his process: “I never believed what they say that if you have a child it affects your work but it seems to be truth.” Even the way he has painted Lukas has changed over time, culminating in this portrait: “I painted him several times,” Lago said. “Mostly I painted his eyes. Just his eyes. But this time I made him with closed eyes and it was the last portrait of him I made.” Lago thinks that painting Lukas with closed eyes lets us access his “own world” and “own consciousness.”
VS: The image of Lukas off in his own imaginary world fits in really nicely with the explicit juxtaposition of abstraction and realism you mentioned earlier. Whereas the boy is depicted in a hyper-realistic manner (Before taking a closer look at the painting, I assumed it was a photograph!), the bursts of color on the left remind me of the large, loud canvases of the Abstract Expressionists. Ab Ex, as it is frequently referred to, pioneered a type of painting in 1940s America that emphasized the material qualities of paint. In other words, while realist paintings transform paint into, well, a realistic-looking boy, as in this case, Ab Ex paintings allow paint to be simply paint. This generation of artists looked at the art making process as an intensely personal act, looking inward and tapping into the unconscious parts of their psyches as opposed to looking outward for external influences. Their canvases are therefore filled with non-referential streaks of color that represent each artist’s unique struggle with taming, harnessing, or coming to grips with the irrational side of his mind. When we consider this in light of the Jungian notion of the unconscious–
RBN: It’s always about the Jungian unconscious with you! Let’s try to keep our readers awake and conscious for once?
VS: I guess what I am trying to say is that I find the idea of the boy’s closed eyes signaling a separate realm of consciousness particularly intriguing in light of the fact that within the frame lies a style of painting that attributed its existence entirely to that.
RBN: Ah! Now I get it. In fact, this play of abstraction and realism and the mix of opposing styles and tones is something that Lago explores in many of his works. He described to me how he often likes to challenge the viewer by bringing “in the work something that seems not fit to it. As much different as much better.” In one series, he painted hyper-realistic scenes of refined domestic interiors and then assaulted them with a splatter of bright color. In another, he tore oil paintings in half, hanging one piece on a gallery wall and the other in a random location in New York City, perhaps on an electrical pole or under a bridge. In yet another, he blocked out large sections of classical portraits with brightly-colored squares labeled: “This area is not so important.”
VS: Those are worth taking a look at. Do you think he is asking us to choose between realism and abstraction in these works, forcing us to weigh in on that well-worn debate?
RBN: Well actually, I see it a bit differently. In Lago’s work, this pastiche is not just an act of whimsy pitting abstraction against realism. Rather, his works show a profound, postmodern realism through confrontation with the abstract. Lago is making an honest attempt to depict what living in our world looks like and feels like. It reminds me of the way the composer Caroline Shaw combines Baroque musical forms, modern vocal techniques, and the drawings of Sol LeWitt in her amazing Partita: not to show their dissonance, but rather to reveal their coherence as parts of our experience in today’s world. Seriously, Vicky, you need to listen to this piece right now!
VS: Noted. Shall we bring it back to Lino Lago now?
RBN: Right. So I think this combination of the abstract and the real isn’t asking us to choose one way of looking at the world—it’s forcing us to recognize that the world we live in today is always a bit of both, at the same time. For Lago, “Things are for me as they look in my paintings. They have something else, new. Something unexpected.” Rather than being a dreamlike portrayal in which the abstract and the real do not coexist, this juxtaposition is, for Lago, “Something we found out everyday of our lives (at least me for sure).”
VS: I like this idea of the seeming assault of abstraction across the top of the boy’s head as representing what vision looks like today. If you think about it, we never really do see an object, or a person, in its entirety. For one, our view is generally blocked off by something or someone and so we constantly have to reposition ourselves in order to get a full view. But more importantly, our vision is often confronted with elements of surprise—whether it is advertisements or web pop-ups constantly trying to vie for our attention, our view is, in a sense, always fragmented and interrupted. It is rare that we get the chance to take a sustained look at something. But perhaps this is precisely where art comes in—the artworks hanging on the walls of campus encourage us to slow down for a moment and take a good look.
RBN: And it’s especially neat that we can actually interact with these pieces closely and often
enough to see their texture and appreciate their scale, right? Well, I think we’ve probably spent
more than enough time fawning over Lino Lago’s adorable—and visually and theoretically
interesting—son, and should probably head off to our own Valentine’s. Until next time!
If you see something and want us to say something, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.