Photo by Piero Cefaloni

After a healthy bit of frustration, I recently decided to try and make it a point to go to all exhibitions with a clear head- not even necessarily stone-cold sober, but without having read even the tiniest blurb about the artwork itself, what it’s about, nothing. The dry run is the master take.

            It was a desperate shot that worked out in spades. My eyes were no longer on a leash; my brain was not looking for anything in particular, thus allowing me to see the work and connect with it as part of my surroundings, rather than searching the canvas for hieroglyphic clues to its meaning.

Photo by Piero Cefaloni

            This attempt at seeing differently coincided uncannily with Claire Iono’s exhibition Hidden Cities at Centre D’arts. Works like hers would once have had me examining them like alien minerals, to try and understand them, rationalize them. Just in time, then, for paintings like these would once have been a source of sleepless nights… There is a longing for purity, even self-effacement, in the cloudy whorls of colour that make up Iono’s canvases, which once might have been lost on me; I would have been too taken up with the dyke-like structures and quietly violent textures of In The Middle of Something to look beyond associations with Atlantis, the pursuit of martyrdom, and musings on the cyclical nature of man’s evolution.

            Which would have been missing the point, naturally. It is precisely the lack of solid context that makes Hidden Cities as a whole so liberating; it stands firmly outside the Venn diagram of contemporary art, where abstract expressionism and social realism each rally behind their mutually estranged political passions without much thought (ironically enough) for the right context that might actually get people out of their chairs. Iono’s work is full of both vagueness and intention, as if she is fully aware of the physical impossibility of expressing what she wants to express in physical terms- indeed, there is an ornery humor standing alongside the blue calm of Somewhere In The Light, with the gold-centered squares offering a perfect (and consequentially, non-dogmatic) balance with the submarine world abstractly depicted. Barnett Newman liked to say that if the common man could understand his work, there would be peace on Earth. The Thin White Stripe, God, the All-Powerful- how could you sin after that? Iono’s feels more about balance than the One Truth- where would God hang without our billions of blue backgrounds?

            My first thought upon entering the exhibition was “oh, wow, another Brion Gysin fan!” Indeed, Claire’s washes of mineral colours (carefully balanced between tempera, acrylic, and watercolour textures), large empty spaces, sparse compositions and evocations of large indeterminate swathes of land and sea seemed to me to come straight out of Gysin’s chameleonic book of ideas- even the netted ink lines of the ‘dykes’ carried a strong whiff of something like his 1974 Plateau Beaubourg prints. To my surprise, Claire had never heard of him, but seemed to enjoy the fact that I could relate her work to something that already carries a great deal of personal meaning for me.

            This was a fascinating idea. In her draughtsmanship and textures Iono brings me into contact with another part of myself, a part that I had previously thought was linked to only a handful of very particular shapes, colours, ideas. It seems now that this link is more dynamic than concrete in nature; it relies on motion, natural expansion, to indicate its kinship with all things. Both in the inner mechanics of her work and her pleasure at the range of interpretations it inspires, Iono too is a chameleon- offering an intense spiritual loneliness in two dimensions, in order to afford us some spiritual comfort in the realm of three.

By Dhani Muniz