Somewhere Else • Nona Garcia

Jul 11 to Jul 30, 2012 • Tall Gallery

Nona Garcia’s deft contemplation on the nature and tradition of portraiture continues with Somewhere Else, her latest exhibition at Finale’s Tall Gallery.

The show echoes the themes of absence and anonymity from her previous works, Sitting Still (2007) and Dialogue (2006), and resonates with the same air of detachment—as she sustains her silence to a still unanswered plea, Who are you, really?

Since she began to portray the back of her subjects’ heads—most of whom were her family, close friends and other artists—the myth and beauty that exclusion yielded held on to her palette, and when invited to do a work for a grand collection of self-portraits, she depicted herself as a faceless, unseen, hollow entity, shaped merely by a plump of hair in the middle of the canvas.

In Somewhere Else she returns to this method by portraying other women’s hair, painted on canvases framed neatly in white, lit by individual lamps. All are encased and depicted as if they were existent portraits of persons whose identities are commemorated, as signified by the brass name plates that accompany each frame. The manner in which they are hung is stately and official, as if worthy to be placed along a library’s staircase.

Every aspect of Nona’s portraits appears to adhere with the refined traditions of portraiture. Everything except for the obvious: The names etched on the plates are unceremonious first names, Ann, Sophie, Emma, Dorothy and the like, and everything else in the picture is extracted out—the scene, the face, the body—everything is absent—except their locks, tresses, or curls, the remaining glory of their hair.

The strands of hair are painted, as Nona exceedingly does, in photorealistic manner. Through this the viewer is forced to foster relations with something real yet missing, surreal, suspended, with only the presence of hair to shape each form of imagined identity, or perhaps even a likely beauty, as Nona had them faithfully kept— from every bit of fluff and curl to the way it freely falls down without any shoulder.

This concept of disappearance seems to denounce every quality of what a portrait should be, where the subject’s attire, pose, facial expression, and title should be central to the artist’s motivations. Although Nona’s portraits—from past to present—consciously eradicates all, they posit a big question about the dependence of identity to any of the dead giveaways that define personality. She proceeds right away to the challenge of that last single physical manifestation left from a character and to what extent can it reveal about isolation, anxiety, and existence—the hairy entanglements of life.

Like an empty cylinder the pieces of hair cast a kind of existential shell that’s been vacated by its owner. Where have the women from these portraits gone to? To answer it within Nona’s premise: Anywhere but here.

—Cocoy Lumbao