Art Commentary: Elizabeth Casqueiro’s ‘Entrances and Exits” by Heather Harvey

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The paintings in Elizabeth Casqueiro’s new exhibition straddle and combine abstraction with realism. Her imagery nearly comes into focus, only to dissolve and shift into various alternate readings. Brightly saturated colors and vivid painterly strokes seem jubilant and humorous in moments, then soften into quiet passages and muted colors, then shift again into dark, brooding, more sinister marks. These divergent painting strategies allow multiple storylines and moods to co-exist on one canvas.

Entrance and Exit

The multilayered, fluctuating quality may grow out of Casqueiro’s biography. She has lived most of her adult life in the United States, but her birth and formative years unfolded in the authoritarian malaise of post-world war Portugal. As a child she was deeply drawn to the promise and excitement of American culture. Imported pulp fiction and comic books offered her a heady mix of hope, heroism, drama, risk, and romance. This gave young Elizabeth what she calls her first “early glimpse of an outside world,” beyond home, neighborhood, country, culture, and the confines of her own mind. Many decades later and a fraught American political landscape have added new layers of complexity to the narratives of her youth.

In some paintings Casqueiro draws mainly from superhero stories. She breaks compositions down into smaller areas loosely suggestive of comic book panels. Unclear dramas unfold with flashes of superheroes, villains, and good (hopefully) conquering evil. Other paintings allude more to theater, drama, and the stage as metaphors for life. Casqueiro is particularly interested in the tension between private, inner life versus social, communal life. She recognizes that many consider private inner life as more ‘authentic’ or ‘true,’ but Casqueiro doesn’t see it quite that way. For her, the social masks and personas we wear are as much a part of our identity as solitary periods spent with oneself.

Come On Batman

In her work Casqueiro mines both the heroic exuberance of childhood and the complex absurdities of adulthood. Childhood becomes more complicated then we typically give it credit for, and adults not so different from their younger counterparts. Superheroes and dramatic personas perhaps reflect our ego’s need for respite and protection from the barrages of reality. They create a barrier between delicate interior experience and pressing external demands.

Elizabeth Casqueiro’s solo exhibition Entrances and Exits is open April 14 through July 15, 2018 at the Academy Art Museum. Reception: April 20th 5:30-7pm and Artist Talk: May 4th at 5:30 pm. For more information on Elizabeth Casqueiro’s work see https://www.elizabethcasqueiro.com

Heather Harvey is an artist living in Easton, MD and Associate Professor and Chair of the Art and Art History Department at Washington College.

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