Studio International

Published 22/09/2022

Marina Perez Simão: Onda

Simão’s works have great appeal, and her fantastical futurism chimes with an art world currently in thrall to the realms of science fiction

Pace, London
7 September – 1 October 2022


Something interesting happens in the space between the panels of Marina Perez Simão’s paintings – these few centimetres of blank wall punctuating her polyptychs. How do they connect, these moonscapes, these nether zones? Their spread across multiple canvases suggests a panorama. So, what are we seeing? A livid sea out of a Stanisław Lem story? Edward Abbey watching the sun’s last dip over the streaked red desert of Utah? The view across a sandy beach, observed through the tawny liquid of a raised glass bottle?

In the Brazilian artist’s multi-panel works, each section speaks a slightly different language – the palette, the thickness of the paint, the sense of light and space – yet through their continuous horizon lines, they correspond in some way to form a total “picture”. Dominating the basement of Pace’s London gallery, a seven-metre-wide four-panel painting (all works Untitled, 2022) moves from a sense of depth to flatness, radiant daylight to the closeness of evening, the impression of gazing through archways and apertures to the sense of open country.


A pair of two panel works on the ground floor push the relationship between the individual canvases further. A central lozenge form stretches across the central section of one diptych, flanked by a couple of continuous diagonal waves – the tones and radiance changes, but they clearly relate. Much more jarring is the first polyptych encountered in the show, which doesn’t initially register as a diptych at all – simply as two adjacent abstract paintings. The long continuous horizon lines of its brethren have here been supplanted by a couple of curving lines that run between the two canvases.


What happens in these breaks between the paintings? A lapse in time? A movement through space? Were they once unrelated, but brought together as a closing gesture by the application of a few finishing strokes?

In her single panelled works, Simão floats through a colourscape that seems plucked from the work of Tarsila do Amaral, or the more psychedelic abstractions of Georgia O’Keeffe. The show’s title – Onda (wave) – also describes its dominant form. They are almost gestural abstractions – the rhythm of their surface determined by the movement of hand and brush – vast doodles in paint that allow thick undulating lines to accumulate into wave forms. The works have a feel of motion and ebb. In one, a pearl seems to float above a dark blue pool; in another, a waterfall appears to cascade, isolated across a reddening sand-dune. There are glimpses of what might be the cresting moon and setting sun. A great crenelated brown form rears up through the centre of one like the trunk of a world tree, above puddles the milky pink of gummy teeth.


Simão’s work has great appeal. They recall painting of the mid-century that teased the pleasingly reduced edge between landscape and abstraction – works by Milton Avery, Howard Hodgkin, and others previously mentioned. Their fantastical futurism chimes with an art world currently leafing its way through the science fiction realms of Ursula K. Le Guin, China Miéville and Octavia E Butler. 

In Simão’s charged use of colour, we can see an alliance to the recent work of Sheila Hicks, and her tussocks of bright artificial fibre. Perhaps more importantly from her gallery’s point of view, her palette of cobalt, violet, magenta, cadmium and crimson offers an immediate visual connection to the work of in-demand young abstract painters such as Jadé Fadojutimi, Rachel Jones and Jennifer Guidi. Almost a decade after washed-out colour and scrubby mark-making (AKA “drop-cloth abstraction”) became, in quick succession, ubiquitous, then overblown, it feels as if we are experiencing a market craze for swooping intense colour, pictorial depth and mycelial forms: art of the rainbow rhizome, if you will.


Pace evidently has big plans for Simão. On the basis of one solo institutional show (at the Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing) in the last decade, she is the subject of a Rizzoli-published monograph. Her London debut has been accompanied by carefully nurtured press suggesting her work is in hot demand, much of which regurgitates barely digested lines fed by the gallery. As a critic, I started to feel a bit played as soon as I started to do background research.


This should not be the artist’s issue. Simão has been experimenting with the territory between abstraction and nature-derived forms since about 2015, though seems to have plunged into her current mode a couple of years ago. The paintings are nice – particularly in her polyptych work, she is doing something interesting. Were I an ultra-wealthy art collector, I might even buy one (and maybe even get high while zooming in and out of its illusory psychedelic depths.) But having been fed this exhibition on a plate, it is hard to stop running my tongue over my teeth checking up on the nasty taste left in my mouth.