"Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
In her latest show of large-scale paintings called Butterfly's Tongue, Geraldine Javier has continued her exploration of how disparate and contrasting imagery can be combined and synthesized into a unified aesthetic whole. In these works, Javier generates thematic ferment, not through the amalgamation of separate panels as she has done in the past, but through the direct manipulation of the painting itself, penetrating the canvas with preserved insects in vitrines and embroidered birds in gilded frames. In this manner, the artist achieves a layering of meaning that is both physical and metaphysical.
Featuring quite prominently in the Butterfly's Tongue suite of paintings are depictions of old trees, solitary giants cut and scarred, stripped of their bark, showing their white inner flesh made hard by wind and weather suggesting skin flayed to the bone. These paintings evoke the photographic work of Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz of frozen trees in winter and dead desert trees in that they are also meditations on mortality. The metaphor represented by these trees is the overarching theme of Javier's body of work which is why she has marked the beginning and end of the Butterfly's Tongue series with two such trees: the first being a work called Life Cycle (After Goya's Disaster of War) that was exhibited at the 2009 Scope Basel and the last being Eruption, the present lot.
In Eruption, Javier depicts a tree whose bark has been almost completely scraped off, painted from an angle set at the heart of its shorn branches, where the viewer has the impression of being grasped by a giant claw, of being enfolded into a stifling and prickly embrace. This powerful aggression is balanced by the representation of silvery birds and delicate leaves in the background that provides the contrapuntal lightness to the tree's immense weight. These birds and leaves represent the memories of this ancient tree - they are whispers from a distant time.
Eruption is concerned with that small space where life and death touch. In closely examining the fragments of tree bark that emerge from the shadows of branches, the viewer discerns maroon and burgundy highlights. The artist has possibly painted a bursera simaruba: a tree that in winter reveals its white skin and in the spring restores to itself its red bark. It is the paradox of creation that a tree which appears dead in winter carries in the depths of its heart the capacity to live again.
The artist seems to revel in this paradox installing eight lushly embroidered birds into her painting whose coloration sets them off like jewels against the pallor of the ashen branches. Unlike the ghostly birds hidden in the leaves, these resplendent birds are thriving creatures whose song is meant to wake the dead. They are messengers from the Source, prophesying the day when this tree will erupt into life and cover itself once more in a majestic coat of fire.
Christie's is grateful to Mr Michelangelo Samson for this catalogue entry.