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Eva Bovenzi at Graduate Theological Union
by peter selz
Jul 2009

Thirteenth Messenger 2007 Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 54"
Photo: Kim Harrington

Mysterious diptychs by Eva Bovenzi, called Messengers, were recently on view through June 15, at the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library of the Graduate Theological Union
in Berkeley. 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.

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, 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 working today, who make 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 such as Max Beckmann, Marsden Hartley and Philip 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. She also points to Eva Hesse, whose fiberglass pieces, both strong and vulnerable, hang from the wall with indeterminate spaces between the units.

The wings of Bovenzi’s Messengers shimmer in rainbow colors. In 1997 the artist 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 ellipses, 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.

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