Head, portrait, visage, feature, mug, look etc. There is a series of words to speak about the face. For example, Giacometti rather paints heads. And this is of course because the sculptor stands behind the painter, and that a head refers to the rest of the body as part of a whole. Rembrandt does paint portraits. Let’s say that a portrait considers a face through the prism of identity. A portrait supposedly entangles an image with a name. It implies resemblance and recognition. This is why it seems so significant that Rembrandt constantly disguises himself in his self-portraits. He plays his own image and with it. Not only does he turn identity into a masquerade, but also we do not always know the part he plays. Some self-portraits are ambiguous. For example, in Cologne, a painting today entitled Self-portrait as Democritus or Zeuxis casts doubts about who or what Rembrandt represents himself as. If it is as Democritus, the painting gives food for thought. But if it is as Zeuxis, it also gives plenty to laugh and cry. To begin with, one should know that Zeuxis, a most illustrious master of painting from the Antiquity, was also a master in blurring identities. For instance, when representing Helene of Troy as the epitome of beauty, in accordance with the codes of his time, he draw from the most beautiful body parts of five different models, taking bits and pieces from the prettiest women in Athens. To go back to Rembrandt, the painting was sold in 1758 under the title “Rembrandt painting an old woman”. To add up to this carnival of identities, on closer look, one could very well expect it to be entitled “Rembrandt painting himself as an old woman”. Now, if one also notices the slight smile on the painter’s face represented on the side of the canvas (this painting also bearing the title Self-portrait as Zeuxis laughing), the work could indeed directly refer to Zeuxis (even though Democritus was often described as a laughing philosopher), and to the story saying that this Greek master of composite beauty died of suffocation while laughing at the portrait of a very ugly old woman he was painting. In truth, on closer look, Rembrandt’s painting could also be entitled Self-portrait as an old woman laughing.
Paz Corona does not paint ugly old ladies, but rather beautiful people. Though she could. When her figures have names, like Zeuxis, there are those of Greek mythological beauties, ideal figures like Calypso, Xanthus, Capheira, Acastus, Chloris and the Telphouse fountain. She also paints non-mythological boys and girls. But one will recognize the face of Berthe Morisot or the young Rimbaud in their features. They are not exactly portraits of someone, but portraits of portraits. And sometime reversely, in the anonymous face of a nymph, one can recognize Paz Corona herself. Something like a Self-portrait as a girl not laughing.
At the same time, as we browse through her work, we seem to find Paz Corona everywhere in her paintings: in these boys who are not her as well as in those girls she bears no resemblance with. In fact, it all seems to go beyond resemblance and identity, beyond portrait and self-portrait. Girl or boy, young or old, beautiful or ugly, at the end, Paz Corona is in all of her paintings. And she is everywhere in painting itself. Said like this, it might sound odd, or a bit poetic. On the contrary, I think it is very true and tangible. Today, who would doubt that both paintings and artworks contain their creator, and that there is an intimate connection between private life and creation? We did not need Freud or Sainte-Beuve to draw that conclusion. This idea already prevailed during the Renaissance.
At the end of the Quattrocento, there was a saying in fashion in Florence: Ogni dipintore dipinge se. Every painter paints himself. This concise formula was credited to Brunelleschi. Synthesized by Daniel Arasse [Le sujet dans le tableau, Flammarion, 1997], the idea is that an artwork inevitably “looks like” its author, and that one can “recognize” him/her in it. Marsile Ficin put it in philosophic words as such: “The works of art that relate to sight and hearing reveal the mind of the artist, Ficin wrote. In paintings and architectures, the know-how and skills of the artist are brought to light. Besides, we can also see his character and like the reflection of his psyche. Because in works of art, the mind expresses and projects itself like a mirror reflecting the face of a man who looks at himself.” But it was Savonarole who most accurately commented Brunelleschi’s thesis: “We hear that every painter paints himself. However, he does not paint himself as a man (since he represents images of lions, horses, men and women) but as a painter, meaning according to his concept.” Present not only in every portrait but also in every image, man, woman, lion, horse, but also tree and cloud (in this regard, it does not seem like Paz Corona is inclined to project herself as bouquets of tulips, herds of cows, Swiss mountain or bunches of asparaguses). Here, what we pin down is the presence of the creator in his work beyond images, mirrors and all maters of resemblance.
In her paintings, Paz Corona is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Her painter-self is one of painting. And if Zeuxis drew from several women bodies to paint the beautiful Helene, Paz Corona’s face wanders and peaks through the open and unrestrictive multitude of her paintings and drawings. A variable, changing and indefinite self-portrait in essence, since it is never completed or finished. As Rembrandts showed it, the subject is indefinitely the same and another.
On a side note, we can also underline that, discreetly, the multifaceted in progress self-portrait of Paz Corona, while abolishing all resemblance of the image to its model, opens her work to a deep and very accurate political dimension.
We know that the modern function of portrait entered history through photography, the practice at the origin of an autonomous and systematized style called “mug shot”. The latter emerged in anthropology and medicine during the 19th century, and reached its final state in anthropometry thanks to Alphonse Bertillon who worked for the Parisian police in the 1880s. The mug shot represents a model of identification of individuals through the objective recording of a lasting and unforgeable specific physical clue. At first, this clue was the face. It was replaced by digital print, and today, by DNA profile. These identification modalities reflect the scientific and biotechnological state of our society and contribute to a certain body policy. Potentially embedded in the development of photographic portrait is the project to produce, specify and ensure individual identity. Cameras become a device used to produce the Same. In turn this logic of “the Same” human makes possible but also necessary the designation of a non-human Other. The negation of humanity is only enabled by men’s identity-based logic. Exclusion is the chore of all identity-based thinking.
Now, how can we implement an identity policy for an individual who does not let himself be captured by any fixed image, neither that of a man, nor that of a woman, but instead, is refracted in a cloud of multiple faces, all different and the same? Paz Corona’s painted self-portraits give no lasting or unforgeable individual clues. As we know, this identity-based logic born in the 19th century when images played a decisive role, manifested its deeply murderous nature on a global scale in the 20th century. We could therefore conclude that in developing a painting in which she appears indefinitely the same and another, Paz Corona -a bit like Cindy Sherman- is working toward a certain dissolution of identity. Thus she might contribute, if not to peace – la “paz”-, at least to an in-depth reflection of French foreign painting on the damages of the identity-based approach.
In other words, through her multifaceted self-portraits and non-restrictive paintings, although she paints on canvas, Paz Corona practices an “off canvas” painting.
She is an “off canvas” painter in that she goes beyond the notion of genders. I started with the fact that with head, portrait, visage, feature or mug, there are countless terms to designate the face. Paz Corona paints portraits and female nudes. However, if I were to define a gender, and only one, I would say that in portraits or nudes, Paz Corona always paints faces. And if we follow Bruneleschi’s theory, maybe there is only one face in this thousand of painted ones.
I questioned myself in front of these series of large format faces painted by Paz Corona, a hundred times bigger than real ones, probably bigger than close-ups on big screen -these cinema faces to which we look up –as Godard said- whereas we look down on TV screens.
Face, we know what the term originally means: both what sees and what is seen. Aristotle commented the Greek word for face, prósõpon, which designates both the aspect and the place where the organ of vision is located. For him, it referred to the human characteristic of being the only animals that stand up and look straight in the eyes. Being able to look straight at ourselves would ensure as such the specificity of human identity. To that, we can also add the fact that men are the only animals who copulate face to face.
However, it is not the face-to-face element that strikes me in front of these portraits -a face-to-face in which Sartre saw the possibility of using violence, being objectified and turned into a thing by the other. The power of the staring eye has been endlessly exploited in painting. If I wanted to speak about what strikes me in Paz Corona’s faces, I would not first talk about the eyes, but I would say that these faces are uncovered.
And by that I mean, beyond the humanity Aristotle could grasp in it, an echo of Emmanuel Levinas’ conception of the face, he who saw in it, not only the visible and straight (here it would be a Giacometti portrait), but also the open, exposed and, I would say, naked side of ourselves.
As we know, in Levinas, this nakedness tends toward deprivation and vulnerability, since the face that exposes itself to the other also does so, as in Sartre, to violence. However, the nakedness of Paz Corona’s faces has little to do with fragility. On the contrary, it has to do with glorification, a glorification of the body. Here there is something like an ode to the face, not as a social or psychological place of expression, but as the part of the body we can see naked, unveiled and exposed. In theory, there is nothing shameful about a naked face. Therefore, veiling the face has less to do with shame and moral than pure dehumanization.
This is why I do not see any difference between Paz Corona’s nude paintings and portraits. In her work, every body is a face, an exposed body. Between naked faces and unveiled bodies, Paz Corona paints face-uncovered bodies. Women bodies that expose themselves without pornography, eroticism or academism. Simply human.
As an ode to the body, in Paz Corona, nudity is about the glory of painting and its power to strip bare. This is why, for her, painting is an art of the face: an art that faces up. The paradox of painting: putting colors on a canvas to strip it bare. Sometimes, parts of the painting are uncovered, hence revealing the canvas underneath, the body of the canvas, the paint directly on the skin, as a veil unveiled.
In Paz Corona’s work, there is something like a rapture, a rapture of exposed bodies. It shows in each painting. Rapture of anonymous, unidentified and naked bodies, humans only too human.
After all, Paz Corona’s painted faces and nudes might be a war declaration against everything covered.