Harmony of forms and symmetry are of the utmost importance in renowned New York-based, Colombian-born abstract painter Fanny Sanín’s sublime, geometric compositions currently on display at Venice Beach’s prestigious L.A. Louver Gallery. As her Los Angeles debut, this comprehensive retrospective traces this acclaimed color field artist’s prolific 50-year career as part of the collaborative Getty-led initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA which aims to highlight Latin American culture across scores of exhibitions presented by 70 of Southern California’s most prestigious museums and galleries.
Featuring a wide-array paintings dating from 1967 to 2017, this presentation gives audiences a rare glimpse of Sanín’s early forays into abstract expressionism. After earning her MFA in printmaking from University of Illinois at Urbana in 1962, she moved to Monterrey, Mexico and later London, honing her Lee Krasner-esque, oil paint-based gestural style with hints of figuration. In 1968, the budding artist was greatly inspired by the MoMA organized Art of the Real exhibition in Paris and soon committed herself to working solely in abstraction. She abandoned all traces of figuration and chiaroscuro in her work and also transitioned into her now signature usage of acrylic paints. Of this monumental shift, Sanín explained: “Abstraction forced me to think of color and form independently of theme and figure. I felt I was creating, no longer copying as before.”
Sanín completed her first purely geometrical paintings In 1969 while briefly living in Monterrey again before permanently decamping to New York City in 1971. Characterized by thick vertical bands, these precisely-planned pieces feature virtually no trace of the artist’s hand. Translating what she learned as a sculpture, architecture, and printmaking student at Chelsea School of Art into her paintings, the artist imbued these works with a rigid structure and palpable physicality. Also, her creative process for these works was and continues to be quite involved. She always begins with countless preparatory sketches to determine color harmonies and composition. She also preps and primes her own canvases and methodically mixes her own hues. All of these tasks are completed in the hopes of achieving inner peace. Much like the work of renowned late Canadian minimalist painter Agnes Martin, Sanín’s canvases reveal a divinity in their elaborate creation and geometric simplicity. Through the repetitive tasks involved in their making and the eye’s travels through these heavily structured compositions, the mind goes blank, opening up a portal to the highest realms of consciousness.
We can see this elevation of thought clearly in Acrylic No. 9 (1970), the earliest piece of the artist’s current geometric style on view at the L.A. Louver exhibition. Its deceptively simple design consisting of vibrantly-colored pastel stripes feels celebratory in tone. The artist further distilled her voice in 1974’s Acrylic No. 2. Here, her pastel shades have been muted some while her more complex Art Deco-inspired composition of overlapping rectangles offers this same exaltation and serenity. Conscientiously-planned color palettes as well as repeated graphic forms have become her staples over the years. In addition, her wide bands of pure color have been compared to other celebrated color field painters, including Barnett Newman (1905–1970) and Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015).
Continuously tinkering with this geometric style, Sanín began focusing on symmetry in her paintings starting in the mid-1970s. Nearly all of her picture planes started revolving around a vertical axis as evidenced by Acrylic No. 4 (1977) with its perfectly placed rectilinear forms on either side of an invisible, but discernible divide. Although her compositions are always complex and playful, balance is of the utmost importance. This balance is accentuated by her glowing, opaque colors. Without any hint of brushstrokes, these hues appear perfect and divine, as if they have always been there and always will be.
While somewhat seraphic, Sanín’s colors and forms also feel familiar, nostalgic, and comforting. The artist has revealed in past interviews that she desires her choice of tones and hues to feel like listening to a favorite record or hearing the voice of an old friend on the telephone. Always choosing traditional materials, the artist is not against technology, but adores the handmade, human element of painting. This devotion to the tactile and interpersonal has led to immense popularity and exhibitions of Sanín’s work all over the globe, including the Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela, the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, the Museo Nacional, Bogotá, the Denver Art Museum and Miami’s Pérez Art Museum, as well as the New York Public Library.
Despite all of this international success, Sanín proudly retains her Colombian identity. Her geometric paintings do possess a multinational tone due to their style and subject matter, however they are deeply personal for the artist. They reveal a search for joy, balance, peace, and greater spiritual understanding. These attitudes and desires in her work were undoubtedly moulded by her home nation. They display an industrious spirit as well as a strong backbone marked by her iconic and formidable symmetrical forms.
Emily Nimptsch is a freelance arts and culture writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Flaunt, ArtSlant, Artillery, ArteFuse, and Time Out Los Angeles.