Mysterious diptychs, called Messengers, by Eva Bovenzi are currently on view at the Flora Lawson Hewlitt Library of the Graduate Theological Union.
These paintings consist of two rectangular canvases which are connected to form an irregular perpendicular composition in three quarters. The absence of the fourth makes for the vitality of the distinct structure in these works. The absent canvas helps to engage the viewer to become a participant in the work.
Prior to this series Bovenzi had an exhibition of flowers, leaves, tree branches and tangles which was entitled “Silence Matters.” It was the space between the objects—what Zen calls “MA”—which was the motif. We think of the meaningful pauses in Mozart’s compositions, to say nothing of John Cage’s “silences.” In his essay “Art as Form and Reality,” the political theorist Herbert Marcuse pointed out that “the way in which a story is told, the structure and selectiveness of verse and prose, that which is not said or not represented, and yet is present...these are some of the aspects of Form which remove, dissociate, alienate the oeuvre from reality and makes its own reality.” In other words, create the story or painting as a work of art, separate from the actual world. The great sculptor Auguste Rodin made the famous statue, St. John the Baptist, but he later created a similar figure, called Walking Man (1905), which is the figure without head and arms, and is all the more powerful for its fragmentary structure, conveying the sheer force of movement and the high drama of the act of walking.
These Messenger paintings also evoke the image of the Annunciation. On a trip to Italy, Bovenzi was deeply affected by the trecentro and quattrocentro paintings. She might well have seen Simone Martini’s Annunciation of the 1330s, which Bovenzi would have seen in the Uffizi in Florence. Here Gabriel’s wings, resembling the colors of pheasant wings, become manifest to the Virgin who seems to recoil when receiving the Word. There is also Fra Angelico’s Annunciation in the convent of San Marco in Florence, with the multi-colored wings of the messenger saluting Mary, who is in a receptive attitude in this fresco. Unlike many artists who, now, do work which is disconnected from tradition, Bovenzi has been able to create authentic painting precisely because she is aware of her patrimony (if this word is permissible for an artist who has been active in the feminist movement since the 1970s).
Bovenzi also speaks with admiration of modernists, of Max Beckmann, Marsden Hartley and Philip, and Guston and, significantly points to the paintings by Giorgio Morandi in which the quiet intervals between the bottles and jars give such serenity and mystery to his natura mortis. And especially Eva Hesse, whose fiberglass pieces, both strong and vulnerable, hang from the wall with indeterminate spaces between the units.
The wings of the Messengers shimmer in rainbow colors. In 1997 Bovenzi went to a butterfly farm in Ecuador and was delighted to see the tremendous variety of colors not only in the grown lepidoptera, but also in the metallic gold of the cocoons. In many of these paintings a glowing blue is dominant, but there are various grays and metallic silver. And with all the circles, straight directional lines and elipses, the Messengers also evoke old navigational and celestial maps, that charted the known as well as the unknown and yet-to-be discovered places, just as the making of the art itself is a matter of exploration.
Dyptychs by Eva Bovenzi, on display in the Graduate Theological Union’s Flora Lawson Hewlitt Gallery through June 15. 2400 Ridge Road. 649-2400. www.gtu.edu.