An essay on Cecilia Fiona by writer and curator Tom Morton

May 8, 2023
An essay on Cecilia Fiona by writer and curator Tom Morton

If one definition of the act of painting is the fabrication of a static image, then this seems at odds with the practice of the young, self-trained Danish artist Cecilia Fiona, which feels pledged utterly to the concept of flow. The worlds depicted in her vibrant, phantasmagorical canvases are perpetually bursting into being, like scenes from the creation myth of a lost ancient culture, or else perhaps some utopian future society. Almost nothing, here, is stable or bounded. Suns merge into skies and seas. Plants bud, blossom and scatter their seeds to the winds. Now and then, stylised humanoid figures emerge from the pigment, sporting beatific smiles and long trailing hair, or else impish horns and pairs of soft, feathery wings. Are they angels and demons, gods and mortals? Perhaps such distinctions don’t obtain in Fiona’s painted universe, where fluidity and connection appears to be the whole of the law.

Let’s focus for a moment on process. Unusually, Fiona’s paintings are made using natural pigments, which she produces herself from scratch, mixed with rabbit skin glue. This is a medium that long pre-dates oil paints, and one that places a strict set of demands on the artist. One is that the rabbit skin glue must be kept warm at all times, lest it cool into a solid, unworkable mass. Another is that its transparency makes erasing or overpainting her brush strokes impossible. A single shot, then, is all she has. Fiona has said that her paintings begin with ‘a vision that feels like remembering a dream. It’s blurry at first, so I let my intuition guide me until I reach the image’. While she plans her compositions in advance in rough, black and white sketchbook drawings, every other pictorial element—colour, detail, texture—is improvised on the canvas, in intensely focused, almost meditative painting sessions that can last many hours. Fiona has compared these sessions to ‘an archaeological task’, in which she removes ‘the dust and soil’ from her initial vision, and her finished works gradually reveal themselves to her. We might note that Sigmund Freud employed a similar metaphor in his Studies on Hysteria (1895), where he likened the process of psychoanalysis to an archaeologist ‘excavating a buried city’.

Fiona’s paintings turn on abundance. Created through lengthy, meticulous labour, and dense with time, they also teem with vigorous, unruly images of organic life. In Red Morning (2023), a shell spurts out a great plume of what might be at once liquid, leaves and feathers, which braids with similar effusions that issue from the mouths of two figures, whose faces resemble theatre masks from Classical antiquity. We might read this spiral form as a nod to the cornucopia, or horn of plenty, from Greco-Roman mythology, a magical receptacle filled with an endless supply of nourishment. A second shell appears in In Touch (2023), set into a blazing sun that seems to bless the union of a pair of lovers, whose bodies barely touch, but who are caught in a looping field of energetic attraction that resembles the mathematical symbol for infinity: ∞. If there is something of the mandala about this image, the same is true of Spinning for You (2023), in which Fiona paints motifs that suggest at once new galaxies forming in the heavens, and microscopic ova and spermatozoa meeting and merging inside the human body. As above, so below.

Like her paintings, Fiona’s performances employ time as a key element. Three hours long, Creatures of silence (2022) involves two performers making Tai Chi-like movements in the vicinity of the artist’s canvases and painted screens, while dressed as strange, alien-looking beings who might have just stepped out of her imaginary, two-dimensional world and into our own. As the work’s title suggests, these creatures make no verbal commentary on their slow, fluid gestures. Nevertheless, it’s possible to grasp their meaning: like planet Earth, like the whole universe, they are always in motion, always changing, always becoming. Perhaps they’re beckoning us to join them, to lose—and find—ourselves in the great flow of life.

No items found.

Related artists

Related exhibitions

Related events

No items found.
Receive updates on exhibitions, shows, events, and artists.
Thank you for subscribing to our mailing list. Please check your emails to confirm.
Something seems to have gone wrong while submitting the form, please try again