ArtNexus No. 45 – Jul 2002 by Belgica Rodriguez

The nostalgia of childhood is a recurring theme in art. In the visual arts, we find it particularly in painting, and in the most innovative contemporary installations. Memory and remembrance, always guided by a particular human feeling, are projected towards lost spaces construed, as an adult form of consciousness, as paradise. Karem Arrieta (Venezuela, 1964) has explored this territory in a show titled Paradiso, presenting a group of paintings thematically focused on a period of one’s life that passes ineluctably and only remains in memory. According to Arrieta, childhood is always reconstructed as a happy period, but that “paradise is not lost; it exists as a creation and selection of those moments we decide to keep, forgetting or hiding the rest from ourselves and from others, an idyllic past nobody has really lived”.
This painting’s central theme is the portrait of children as paradigms of innocence. Children enveloped by the magic of toys, placed in environments where the reference to such a universe seems to reflect the apparent chaos of a non-conscience of what surrounds us. These portraits are presented as anonymous images, in order for them to become representations of a collective: it’s the universal childhood, everybody in a little sailor suit. The fragility of this theme can be surprising, threaded as it has been by such great artists as Picasso, Pessoa and Proust (in three different directions). However, images profiled against a grid-like background on which the same figure —a horse, a dog— is repeated, contrast with the extraordinary coldness of the children and what surrounds them —a rocking chair, a bicycle, a ball. These children do not express emotion; they appear in old photographs in a atmosphere of absence, submerged in a cold emotional climate. We perceive a disquieting, enigmatic quality that oscillates between the perverse and the angelic, the innocent and the malign. Like Balthus’ pubescent characters, Arrieta’s children have stories, they have pasts, but these are undecipherable: stories and pasts are projected in an abstract manner, to be perceived by the viewer only according to his or her own convenience.
In terms of her plastic proposition, Arrieta explores two pictorial planes: the plane of the characters competes with that of the background which pushes the former to the outside. Imagination and reality are employed in the representation of images whose plastic force resides in a preoccupation with perfect draftsmanship, and in the imprinting of colors that give the surface a symbolic value. Forms containing color organize the pictorial space, properly settling the surface’s structure. Each form’s individual value is important here, although they act as an structural whole at the visual level.
Karem Arrieta is a young artist who, after many years in her native Maracaibo, decided to move to Paris, where she currently lives and works. Since her formative years, as she passed through several schools and art academies, she has sustained an interest in painting as the expression of a visual alphabet where known formal elements such as form, color, drawing, and composition, respond to the modality’s most appropriate aspects. Without stridentism, so far a neo-avantgardist, she seems keen on following the purest tradition of painting, without ceasing in her experimentation and her transgression of plastic resources. Her youth, her command of a personal language, and the certainty of knowing what she wants, give her the chance to continue with her vocation for painting.

Belgica Rodriguez