Norma Esperanza Lopez
Flat glass panels lay atop a table, they are deep and dark, black and glossy like obsidian. Norma Esperanza Lopez, fluttering tirelessly around the enormous studio space she occupies in Lawrence, MA produces a cord stemming from the dead panels. At once, they are illuminated from behind, coming to life after a brief repose. The panels are large, and it is difficult to take in the entire piece at once. No matter — her gestural painting moves my eyes across the surface, metallic paint shimmering like stardust. Forming a juncture between art history and individual experiences, Lopez frames her personal narrative within the trajectory of the familiar. The drama of the self is fluid and ever-changing, an ineffability subject to external influences.
At first glance, the artist’s process is seemingly clear. Reminiscent of action painting from the post-World War II Abstract Expressionist period, the body is broadcasted in form and scale. Placed within this discourse, Lopez subverts the masculine form, intervening in the trajectory of the male dominated history of gesture painting. Is Lopez asking us to consider how female bodies fit into that history, or is the move reparative, establishing the position of the female figure for the future canon? I would argue that both objectives are equally significant in her work.
Lopez informs me that the panel is fashioned from repurposed television screens, and quickly moves to show off her collection of intact monitors stored tidily in the hallway. The screens stand at almost exactly her height, further solidifying the corporeal evident in the action; these are a type of self-portrait or, at the very least, a physical record of the artist’s existence. Signaling the body through motion and scale, the Screens series reflect the artist in the imprint of the gesture, non-figuratively.
While the labor of collecting and of deconstruction is barely visible in the bodily gestures of the work, it is implicit. Lopez relies on a studio neighbor to supply her with screens banished to the garbage. Otherwise, the artist picks through bins and scours sidewalks for screens; discarded televisions and iPads mainly. She expresses concern over the growing amount of trash produced by consumers, who are indifferent to the impact such waste might have on the environment. Lopez has developed a technique for the safe removal of the screen from the front panel of the device, the surface of which becomes the canvas for her work. The remaining fragments she leaves behind for scrap reclaimers who recycle the residual material
The pristine objects belie the physical effort behind their production, a reality that is tantamount to the artist’s own process of becoming. Norma Esperanza Lopez was born in Bucaramanga, Colombia. As a young student (she places herself in 5th grade), Lopez would walk by an art college on her way home from class. Intrigued, she asked the instructor to enroll. Not yet old enough to attend she was turned away, but her desire to become an artist persisted. Determined, Lopez informed her parents of her decision to become an artist, detailing her plan to move to Bogotá to study art. This news seemingly amused her parents, who told her that being an artist was not possible. They directed her to more serious matters, encouraging her to marry. Like her parents, Lopez’s husband was not thrilled by her desire to become an artist. But she persisted. In 1972, Lopez moved to the United States where she studied astronomy at the University of Minnesota and took art classes at night. Eventually, the artist earned her BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, several years after walking by the school in Colombia, pleading for a seat in the studio.
The toil of becoming an artist is central to understanding the autonomous nature of the work itself. Similarly, the paint takes on its own life, crackling atop the surface of the screens, extending and retracting like amoeba. The paint rests on top of the glass, unable to coalesce further signaling their vulnerability to change. Screens #1 and Screens #2 are vertical panels, whereas Screens #3 is displayed horizontally. Screens #1, however, feels like an interloper. With its bright white and crisp structural forms, Screens #1 feels almost mechanical in comparison with its counterparts. Screens #2 and Screens #3 give the sense of contained explosions bursting and coming to life on the screens. Their shimmery, golden hue heighten this effect and the red splotches in each add a sense of violence. They are both seemingly kinetic and the light that illuminates the work tricks the eye into believing there is motion.
The Screens series takes on many forms, dependent on the viewer’s position with relation to the piece, as the work slowly changes when the viewer moves around it. The light alters color, giving way to new discoveries within the work. Given the work’s potential for immediate transfiguration, the viewer is called to action; walking around the work to produce subtle changes. In this sense the action instigated by the artist moves beyond the gesture and into the act of viewing. Perhaps participation renders the viewer closer to the artist in an intimate moment and, in this sense, Lopez is she sharing something deeply personal about herself. Simultaneously, the position of the viewer as participant deflects the gaze, bestowing power and control over consequential acts of engagement with the artist’s work. That these figures can alter their shape further presumes agency, formulating a balance between personal and shared experience.
In her work, Lopez is bound by opposing forces; freedom and strife, light and dark, form and gesture. She sets forth at establishing an equilibrium indicative of the reality of life, a balance that suggests that the good necessitates the bad; one cannot exist without the other. This is what remains forcefully potent within the artist’s work, a subtle reflection of our social condition and of her own personal story. Through this impartiality, Lopez’s Screens reveal the fluidity between personal truth and human experience. These narratives morph and expand, allowing the pieces to acquire a life of their own.
-Stephanie R. Dvareckas