It would of course be incorrect to classify Navarro as a photographic realist although she obviously views things with the eye of a photographer and her paintings come by way of photography. But whereas the subjects of the photo realists tend to become sharper and harder as a result of reworking, the outlines of Navarro's pictures tend to dissolve into a soft and often flowing borderline between two levels of painting.
Although architecture forms a central chain of themes in her work she is not a landscapist nor is she a painter of the intérieur in spite of the many interiors featuring in her paintings. The views of interlocking suites of rooms hardly invite one to enter them. Indeed, floors and walls lead picturesque existences of their own which their structures and shadow play turn into rhythmic colour harmonies.
Moreover, the interiors and fragments of architecture have the character of still lives, the painted world momentarily flooded in light and shade appears to be timeless and to lead a pictorial life of its own. One can't help being reminded of Edward Hopper and his painted icons - although the human figure is missing in Navarro's pictures, apart from the occasional sculpture. And in spite of all representational affection for her subjects, the realistic world - contrary to Hopper - ultimately remains meaningless: where should a given perspective lead us? Where a banister? The row of washbasins in the ladies' toilet is not intended as a social criticism. Yet, the row is important. In fact, rows constitute a principle of composition in many of her pictures: stairs, tiles, curtains, stripes, window and door frames surface again and again, but often pierced by light or undulated by a mirror. The ultimate objective appears to be pure painting as it unfolds through warm and cold shades of grey and brown.
In an age when there are fewer and fewer paintings to be seen in large museums and when the term "peinture" in the field of art in fact appears to become obsolete and occasionally even obliterated, Navarro's paintings must be welcomed as a stroke of luck. After all, she tells us that no other genre can generate a deeper effect of light and colour on us than painting shows.
Even though our world may be defined as much as it is by technology, the feeling for aesthetic values and their colourful and formal transformation and reorganisation in an artistic context will always remain a human need . And even though the museums may feel flattered by the fact that the artist has chosen their showcases and suites of rooms as a subject for her paintings, it is not these objects and spaces which ultimately count but the continuous commitment to pure painting.
Jan Willmes, M.A.
Irene de Navarro's pictures are brilliantly painted. Their subtle colours exert a power of suggestion, especially the larger formats. The artist's objects for taking issue with our world are city perspectives, views of industrial plants and landscapes.
An essential structural element of her compositions is a more or less distinct grid - of varying size - of linear structures such as window bars, storey dividers, sills, masts, wiring, etc. The narrow vertical and horizontal shapes often form individual fields of presentation which almost seem like independent pieces of a collage.
And yet, the consistency of the picture space is maintained: The perspective of the model, both in terms of colour and shape, is preserved. The effect is further enhanced by the deliberate choice of the detail which establishes a contrast between "very close" and "fading away into the distance".
A central element which often determines the overall form and contents of her city views is the painted mirror reflection. The picture presents on the one hand the reflecting surfaces - such as mirror panes, high-polished glossy metal sheets of car bodies, aluminium or steel facades, water surfaces etc. - and on the other hand the objects reflected in these surfaces such as homes and factories, machines, road signs and the sky.
This makes the pictures immediately intelligible to the observer so that, initially, things appear as one would expect them.
But at the same time our experience of reality is irritated. The special treatment of light and the subtly composed canon of colours which defines the subjects' existence imparts them on the one hand an idealised appearance, on the other hand an aura of momentousness or even mystery. This aura is additionally intensified by the actual monumentality of the objects - multi-storey buildings, large factories, massive steel girders etc. - and by the fact that the human environment portrayed in the pictures - homes, work places, communication media - is presented without human beings. Because of the frequently great depth of the landscapes and industrial views and the plentiful richness of the direct or mirrored city perspectives the absence of human beings and other living creature often gives the objects an air of unapproachableness.
The different temporal states of things - noticeable from their shapes or materials - have already been brought into a state of immovable rest by the grid of lines of the composition. Moreover, that which could be moving and could be painted as moving look frozen, the flag in the foreground looks as if made of solid material, the fine smoke on the horizon as though frozen in the blue of the sky, the water surface remains unfathomable. Above all: the instant of reflection receives principally the same painterly treatment as the permanent reflecting object, only the shapes of the reflected objects contrast with those which are reflected. The characteristic aesthetic of Navarro's "photorealism" encourages us to reflect and analyse and appears to lead to a statement about the coherence and inner situation of modern man's existence.
For while man appears to be omnipresent in all the structures portrayed, the fact he/she never appears - even as an accessory - compels us to concentrate on contemplating this man-made environment and are left to our own devices in this contemplation.
As we have seen, the things in the pictures only seem to be mere images of a reality characterised by continuity and progress. But actually, because of their ideal immobilisation in a state of momentous beauty they are removed from our temporality and have become parables.
The more we try to decipher these parables, the more the seemingly familiar, close and secure objects slip away from us. And with them slip away also those things which to a great extent determine our lives: all things are principally challenged and qualified and no ultimate meaning transpires from behind the reflecting facades and powerful forests of steel girders of our industry and technology-driven existence.
Dr. Peter Holzwig
Reflections on the paintings transposed by Irene de Navarro
Picasso loved adapting, varying a given motif, and playing with original subjects. The monumental artist explored key paintings in the history of art, he transposed them, deformed and abstracted the objects portrayed until they looked like real "Picassos". His variations on Manet's scandalous painting "Luncheon on the Grass"or his modernisation of "Las Meninas" by Velazquez are well-known.
The appeal of measuring himself against his prominent predecessors may well have played a part for Picasso. His method could be described as "appropriation": the artist transforms an important work into a work of his own.
Adaptation and interpretation are also key features in Irene de Navarro’s series of paintings. "Reenacted" - this is the title on a large folder containing the photos of the original works filed with the photographs "reenacted" with living persons. Navarro has been photographing her family members in poses based on works of art history since the mid 1990s. The next stage of her work is to use these photographs as models for her impressive paintings. Works by Frans Hals, Rubens or Murillo are recreated and transported into the present.
If you are not aware of how the artist works, you would probably find her paintings puzzling or surreal. A cloaked woman and a mother with children look on helplessly as three athletic young men push a Mercedes limousine out of the yard. You would only recognize this to be an updated version of Anselm Feuerbach's Medea painting if you can call the "original painting" to mind.
Reenacted, however, has a second level of meaning, related to the hunt. Just as man pursues the fox or hare, Irene Navarro in this case pursues and captures the meaning of the original paintings. Obviously she is not interested in superficial transposition.
The artist generally discovers the paintings that inspire her when she is travelling or visiting museums. It is always the originals that fire her imagination, not illustrations or reproductions. She explores the original paintings in situ, she pursues and studies closely the lighting, iconography and imaging technique of the old masters. And from what she finds, she creates something completely new in her own style, that something being catapulted into our time. In this way, puzzling scenes are produced where people with curiously antiquated facial expressions an gestures are wearing contemporary clothes.
The exploration and recreation of traditional works is one direction. The work of this Düsseldorf artist also gives us the chance to look retrospectively at the original paintings and to rediscover their quality with a clearer perception. In other words: Navarro’s vision and work is not like Feuerbach or Manet but her new creations allow us once again to reexperience the originality of Feuerbach or Manet.
She appears herself in her painting "In the Winter Garden" (by Manet) taking a strangely detached pose alongside her partner. Man’s increasing isolation in the large cities of the 19th century was a phenomenon which Manet addressed in his works. When Navarro "reenacts" this motif in 2006, she reminds us that isolation is a problem that still concerns us today more than ever before. The artist never forces an explicit approach upon us. Her variations are deliberately and most decidedly left open to interpretation.
And quite naturally, all these wonderfully sensitive adaptations have a family component. We repeatedly see that the artist’s children, grandchildren and partner are pleased to stand model for the paintings. Jokingly, Irene de Navarro describes this part of her work as her "painted family album".
But the significance of these paintings is far more than private. They arouse our curiosity about apparently well-known works of art. They open up and focus our vision and give the familiar a new look.