Henrique Faria Fine Art is pleased to present “Hash Brownies” After Alice B. Toklas, the first exhibition of the Spanish-American artist Elena del Rivero in the gallery. “Hash Brownies” presents del Rivero’s latest canvas “dishtowels”, works on paper and photography in dialogue with a work by Franz Erhard Walther and works by invited artists Amanda Hunter and Alaina Claire Feldman, whose pieces add to del Rivero’s experiential and sensorial approaches to art making. This exhibition is named after the notorious recipe included in Toklas’ 1954 cookbook, which included not only the French recipes collected from Toklas’ time living in Paris with partner Gertrude Stein, but is also peppered with anecdotes from the writer’s life and her relationship with Stein. As 2020 marks the centennial of the 19th amendment granting women’s right to vote in the United States, del Rivero, who considers the kitchen a “political place par excellence”, acknowledges Toklas’ recipe as she honors women’s transgressive efforts throughout history in their fight for equality and against a forced domesticity.
Del Rivero’s most recent dishtowels belong to the Suffrage series (2019-2020) and while they serve as a general homage to the suffragettes, they have been directed in the past to a major male modernist, and as John A. Tyson writes “they engage with the past while interrogating hierarchies in the arts, the series ideally prompts viewers to consider how the gridded motifs of feminine-coded material culture anticipated heralded developments in the vanguard abstract art” in this recent series, however, she also engages political figures of the past she admires in relation with her subject matter. The towels, which are larger than human-scale, take their initial design inspiration from the traditional French Torchon aesthetic but soon become testaments to the artist’s hand, kitchen and home as the canvases bear not only acrylic paint but also stains of wine, turmeric, rust and bleach and are subjected to hand-scrubbing in the artist’s tub. As writer and curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill writes of del Rivero’s process in the exhibition text, “the performative act of metaphorically cleaning, while also creating and integrating chance into the process of painting, both celebrates and exorcises women’s history in the kitchen.” Hung from the ceiling, the works become embodied and engage with viewers on a physical level as they make their way through the gallery space.
The artist also employs embroidery on her canvases when they rip during her process of painting and scrubbing, fully aware of sewing’s place within the female homemaker’s repertoire and its association with craft. As Fajardo-Hill writes, del Rivero takes advantage of this opportunity to repair the work and give it new life, and notes that the acts of, “[healing,] preserving, mending, repairing, curing [and] suturing” are key elements throughout the artist’s practice. Thread is also applied to the works of the Domestic Landscape series (2019), which, in addition, feature collaged elements, gouache and coffee, wine or turmeric on vintage ledger paper. The abstract terrain of soft geometric forms and chance stains is juxtaposed with the strict linear organization of the ledger paper, demonstrating the existence of spaces for creation and liberation within those environments normally associated with precise rules and customs.
The photograph, Easy Morning on Tompkins Square (2015), and installation, THE END OF THE WORLD: The Montana Nest (2014-2019), bring del Rivero’s dishtowels out of the realm of the studio and into external environments. In the photograph, the dishtowels hang from park trees and have a chance encounter with an early morning runner, whereas in the installation, the dishtowel is hung alongside with the artist’s self-portrait, a found bird’s nest and a porcelain bird. The dishtowels – which in the photograph function almost like flags, and when hung next to the nest and a flying bird reinforce the feelings of safety and home, but also of escape – become emblematic of the collapse between public and private, of the weight of tradition and of breaking free, of the symbols of oppression and liberation.
As Fajardo-Hill concludes, the “radical conflation” of these opposing entities in del Rivero’s work is both the embodiment and product of years of Feminist struggle, standing in solidarity while looking to the future, aiming to empower women to create the world in which they want to live.