Norman L. Kleeblatt (2020)

Discussion about Catalina Chervin’s work brims with references to darkness and tragedy.

Texts describing it are filled with sharp juxtapositions and inevitable
contradictions relating at once to formal and emotional aspects of the work.

Phrases like “precise lines and accidental imprints,” the “calibration” of drips and smudges, “limits and certainties in dissolution,” as well as the blurring of dreams from reality pepper writings on the artist. Yet the description of materials and methods she deploys to make her individual works fail to acknowledge one major element of her technique: to attack, distress, and sometimes even destroy parts of the paper support on which she draws. This observation adds yet another set of contradictions. Through an obsessive finesse of Chervin’s draftsmanship and the damage she inflicts on the paper support, she creates haunting worlds for viewers to enter into and engage.

Her pictures are neither entirely abstract nor anywhere near representational; her imagery at once allusive and elusive. Her works are appositional no-man’s lands, disturbed by destructive techniques which have offered artists aesthetic strategies fused with emotional coping mechanisms in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust (1).

Clearly the worlds Chervin invents in her graphic art are as strong as they are vulnerable, as obsessive as poignant. Perhaps the juxtapositions and contradictions that have attached themselves to her work begin to explain the curious duality between artist and the subjects of her art that I have noticed during our twenty-year-old professional friendship. From the first, I always have encountered Chervin as an as an individual who is both intellectually and psychologically grounded. She exhibits personal grace and worldly insight. The individual I engage with contrasts sharply with the formal intensity of the dark worlds she creates and the physical struggle she engages in the making of each work.

 I finally questioned Catalina about these disparities in a recent conversation we had while looking closely at a group of her images. We were both struggling to define how her process of constructing her art relates to her inner struggle with personal, familial, national, and global histories she both inherited and internalized. We each stretched to find an appropriate term to describe the emotional currency triangulated among artistic process, final product, and the artist’s personal bearing. Simultaneously, we came up with the word, the idea, of catharsis. This term of release and purging -dare I say exorcism- now aptly explains the other dichotomy between the intensity of Catalina Chervin’s working methods and the balance and grace of the person I have come to know.

(1) See Kerry Brougher, Russell Ferguson, and Dario Gamboni, Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950 (Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Munich: Del Monico, Prestel, 2013)



* Norman L. Kleeblatt
is an independent curator, critic, and consultant.
In 2017, he stepped down from his position as Chief Curator at the Jewish Museum ( New York) after a tenure of over forty years.
He currently serves as co-president of the United States section of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA-USA) and secretary of the board of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School. 



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