Geometric and organic forms combine through the alchemy of Katia Santibanez’s abstraction
Katia Santibanez, a painter based in New York, has spoken of her work as “the relationship between nature, architecture, geometry, and the power of the mind.” Often organizing the picture plane into a series of rectilinear compartments, the artist adds motifs that suggest fur, grass, or other organic forms. Her current exhibition on view at Michael Steinberg Fine Art is an engagingly process-driven show.
The size of Santibanez’s work ranges from intimate to small. Several perfectly crafted, optically scintillating paintings on view in the main gallery measure just 12 inches square. We can see for ourselves how the DNA of these paintings relates to a number of pencil sketches and black line engravings displayed in a separate room, where they freely converse.
Santibanez creates a continuous circuit of process and execution that feels open ended. Watercolor or gouache has been applied to some prints. The color is tightly contained but rich, as in an engraving where columns of saffron blades whip up and down invisible plumb lines. Throughout the show, her ductile line has a piercing quality in some works; in others, it seems to gently drag or flow around a magnetic force.
Resolutely abstract, Santibanez’s mix of symmetry and freehand drawing is nonetheless metaphorically complex. Curved forms dominated Santibanez’s last solo exhibition in New York in 2002. At the time, they were reminiscent of grassy lawns or hedges, having been painted flat dark green. In fact the botanical theme and geometric pattern were highly suggestive of Italian or French formal gardens, which were designed to reflect the rational organization of the king’s power when seen from a palace window as well as provide hidden spaces for intrigue on the ground. This is a possible reading for the work, considering Santibanez’s French birth and training at the School of Art in Paris.
Since then, through the alchemy of abstraction, Santibanez has begun to spin straw into gold. Her parterre format and botanical themes can also suggest pure energy. In “Red Duet,” red-hued lines seem to flutter like seaweed fronds wafting out from a central stem. Upon closer inspection, the eye and brain become enmeshed in their volubility, as if watching a cardiogram being traced, or the distaff of the Three Fates spinning out the thread of life.
Santibanez’s mesmerizing techniques have great reserves of wit and conceptual depth.