Roberto Marra makes physical what is felt but not seen. We’ll come back to this. As an artist I am usually in the habit of looking rather than writing about the work of others. To ease in, I made lists of words while spending time with Marra’s paintings.
All verbs. Even encountering the paintings digitally, I connect immediately with the materials and the actions Marra is performing on them. Pipes and hooks, fabric and rocks and any number of found objects are patched into and onto the canvases, forcing the paintings to behave against the flatness of their nature.
This second set speaks to the body, and together the two lists build a loose narrative of damage and repair.
In Marra’s work there is the feeling of a broken physical threshold; something hidden under the skin of the painting that bubbles to the surface. This inner stuff, inchoate and worm-like, is only half-heartedly contained. It persists and pushes up and out through gaps, gashes and holes. Sutures and other faulty restraints seem to be more of a symbolic barrier to be broken down, failing to hold it all together but not really trying to either. This adds up. The painter’s hand is the one enacting the violence and he is choosing not to heal it completely, he is choosing to let some shadow stuff out.
In Requiem for the Missing Line, we can see clearly the outlines of objects just under the skin – foreign objects that have been partially integrated into the body? Organs pulsing through a thin veil of skin? We are not supposed to see this, this painting-body should have healed better. Instead, we are on a battlefield between what lies beneath and what tries to cover over it or subsume it completely. In Hold the Line too, gnarly wormy black tendrils spill out of the centre of the canvas, smothered and poorly stopped up by scraps of paper or canvas that are much too small to do the job. You can feel both the force of it and the squish of it as black matter pushes up and crawls through the gaps.
With so much happening at/on/underneath the surface I start to wonder about the life behind the painting, what universe it holds. A goopy, bodily dimension for certain – what spills out is abject and captivating, something we are not supposed to see. Back/front, above/below, inside/outside – which side are we on and what is real?
Both. The answer brings us full circle; Roberto Marra makes physical what is felt but not seen.
This wrestling of material somehow stands in for what gets pushed down, hidden or kept within the bounds of the neat, clean and socially acceptable. What’s real, the veneer or the underbelly? The face we present or our shadow self? Nothing is truer and more human than the struggle between the two. These paintings ask us to sit with both and revel in the beautiful tension and mess of it.
Sarah Pupo lives and works in Tiotia:ke/Montreal. Her practice bridges watercolour painting, drawing, provisional installation, and lo-fi animation. Pupo’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at Occurrence (Tiotia:ke/Montréal, CA) and YYZ Artist’s Outlet (Tkaronto/Toronto, CA). In 2020 she was a resident artist at the British School in Rome.