“Amazing is the word for the paintings by Claudio Bravo,” raved the critic John Canaday, for The New York Times, in his review of the first package paintings, exhibited at the Staempfli Gallery in 1970. “Amazing. Really amazing. So amazing that the question as to whether these paintings are works of art or only staggering technical exercises is beside the point. Which must mean that works of art is exactly what they are.”1 Stunning, hyperrealist paintings of paper-wrapped packages tied with string, the series summons multiple points of origins, as Bravo acknowledged. “I suppose that the idea for these pictures came partly through looking at Mark Rothko’s paintings of large fields of color, and partly through certain works that Antoni Tàpies had done using string across a canvas surface,” Bravo reflected. “The initial stimulus, however, was a very simple mundane one. Three of my sisters had come to stay with me from Chile. One day one of them came home with a number of packages and placed them on a table. I was fascinated by their forms and I painted them. I went on painting wrapped packages in many different ways, investigating the abstract possibilities of the forms while still creating recognizable objects.”2
Across a decades-long career that encompassed portraiture, still life, and landscape, the package paintings stand among Bravo’s most celebrated works, exemplars of an inimitably modern approach to classicism. “You look at a package, it’s a paper surface with shadows and highlights and colors,” Bravo observed. “It’s an obsession I’ve had all my life. I would say I haven’t changed all that much, but I have evolved. I have developed all the possibilities that this genre has given me.” A perceptual touchstone throughout his career, the package paintings provided him a ready, and keenly reflexive medium through which to look back upon the history of art and, latterly, his place within it. “At first, my work was very realistic,” he considered. “Later on, when I had shows in New York, I started becoming a little more abstract. I’ve been aligning myself more with the priorities of modern art without ever forgetting the fact that I’m a realist. As you get older, you become younger. . . . I’ve taken a trip through the history of art in my paintings.”3
Technically brilliant, Bravo’s package paintings frame allegories of representation, meditating on questions of realism, illusionism, and abstraction. Oriented vertically, Purple and Grey-Blue Package is bisected by trompe l’oeil twine, the crinkled purple paper folded neatly along its edges, its pale underside left luminously visible. The exquisite tactility of the wrapping—the soft sheen of the paper, its subtle creases and indentations—heightens the artifice of the illusion, one no doubt informed by the seventeenth-century Spanish tradition and artists like Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán. As a discourse on color and light, Purple and Grey-Blue Package also trucks with the contemporary Color Field painting of artists like Rothko and Barnett Newman, its emotional pitch manifestly expansive and, ultimately, transcendent.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 John Canaday, “Art: The Amazing Paintings of Claudio Bravo,” The New York Times (21 November 1970).
2 Claudio Bravo, quoted in Edward Sullivan, “The Artist Speaks: An Interview with Claudio Bravo,” in Claudio Bravo: Painter and Draftsman (Madison: Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987), 25.
3 “A Conversation with Claudio Bravo,” Claudio Bravo (Naples, FL: Naples Museum of Art, 2006), 8.