Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

The Illuminated Desert and Tommyknockers: Samantha DaSilva at Alpine Gallery

Samantha daSilva, “Wise Power,” acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 36 x 48 in.

In Alpine Gallery, situated on South Temple Street between a pastry shop and a bridal boutique, Samantha daSilva’s works on canvas have the feel of a trip into and out of the depths of a mine. Exactly what any bakery or bridal shop (or mine) must dread most — any sort of accident — makes up the gravity-rich natural beauty of most of daSilva’s work, rich as a rockslide or a sudden brilliant pool of water. Gravity wins in pieces like “Divine Trust” and “Beauty as a State of Being;” they look like the call of the cliffs to the river bed, or the song of the large veins of ore to the lost fines (crumbles). Silver, gold, and sometime even a determined vivid bronze rain or pour down, offset by fields of a soft, dull mushroom-taupe or gray, or a white with a sometimes dulled and waiting quality, like a dimmed light bulb. 

Samantha daSilva, born in Brazil, is always looking for material to texturize her canvases: lately she has used “iron-rich Utah dirt, salt from the Great Salt Lake, local newspaper, plaster” — and, rarely, at request of the bereaved, crematorium ashes — blended into acrylic paint. Or she focuses more on canvas, in its plainer, flatter, form, sometimes ripped and gashed: “Illumination in the Desert,” the painting which is namesake for this show, has regularly-spaced rips in canvas which can even make you think of a type of lace called “cutwork” (sometimes still used in christening gowns, or bridal gowns — in those garments always very carefully trimmed bits of cutouts, usually cut out in floral or leafy shapes, are trimmed in thread usually exactly matching the fabric, usually cream or white in color). But daSilva’s cutwork is a series of small rough gashes, suggesting also, somehow (think of the canvas as a flat plane/plain) the crumply beauty of luminarias (stubby long-burning candles nested in sand in small brown paper sacks): set out at regular intervals around houses at the darkest and coldest time of the year, lit, they give the effect of not-yet-risen stars, a dot-to-dot grounded constellation waiting to rise.

Samantha daSilva, “The Illuminated Desert,” acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 36 x 60 in.

Or: the regular gashes in “The Illuminated Desert” might represent plants or animals in the desert, looking upward, open-mouthed, needing relief from thirst.

One work here is animal: “The Golden Calf” is one cowhide painted gold, stretched flat: but its darker furrow of back ridge, once a natural watershed with two directions just like a mountain’s ridge or peak, has lost its watershed, or natural gravity, it function. It is as flat as a piece of paper (or canvas).

Samantha daSilva, “The Golden Calf,” brazilian cowhide & gold on canvas, 30 x 40 in.

Almost shoulder-to-shoulder in this gallery, these paintings are unusually comfortable very close to each other (even, somehow, the cowhide piece): they radiate calm, even when their titles suggest strong emotion, even turbulence (in an artist statement daSilva lists “the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and eternal sense of home” as influences).

DaSilva is a yoga devotee; most of these paintings would be at home in a yoga studio, with titles like “You Be Home” suggesting arriving at peace after turbulence. DaSilva writes that in her truly mixed media she has even used “foraged sawdust after the hurricane-strength winds in Utah in 2020.” 2020 was also, she notes, the year of the sudden death of her father, an event which pushed her into a creative overdrive. Many titles, like “The Solace of Open Spaces,” suggest resolution, rearrangement. Other titles, like “The Neurology of Love,” seem to be demanding answers from, or mocking, the gods of nature and science, just as “The Golden Calf” demands clear explanation from, and mocks, religious gods — about sacrifice. DaSilva, who champions “unrelenting feminine power,” challenges all the gods.

Samantha daSilva, “The Neurology of Love,” acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 24 x 36 in.

But all of Samantha daSilva’s works seem, too, like the offerings to the tommyknockers of mines — offerings to the supernatural. Once in the old mining days in England, Cornish miners daily carried their wives’ or mothers’ homemade “Cornish pasties,” or “hand pies,” with them into mines: daily they tossed the Cornish pasties’ last, sturdiest bit — a heavy, rounded, crimped crust on one side, made this way so the pie could be held, by that crust, in one hand — down into the mine, after consuming the rest. Though they knew the rich thick crust would be the best part to eat, they knew better than to eat it: the hand that held the pie was likely dusted with the mine’s poisonous arsenic, so they always tossed the thick handmade crusts down into the dark. An offering, they told each other, to “the tommyknockers” — gnomish, subterranean spirits of the mine — which might in turn (they hoped) give them luck: even save their lives someday.

Similarly, daSilva seems to have taken the bitterest and most arid and also the richest and most beautiful, glittering, ores of life, and has folded them into her canvases: explorations, hopes, sacrifices, even, for future luck.

Samantha daSilva, “Go in Peace,” acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 30 x 40 in.


Samantha daSilva: The Illuminated Desert, Alpine Art, Salt Lake City, through Nov. 11

1 reply »

  1. Rebecca Pyle brilliantly captures the scintillating play of colors on and within these wonderful, strange, and wonderfully strange abstract constructions. She’s had practice, not just in words but in her own paintings, which also play with striking arrays of color. We’re lucky to have a painter who can match her art in words, a writer who knows colors because she uses them.

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