Pabli Stein (1986) lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He grew up in a family dedicated to manufacturing women’s clothing, his approach to the fashion universe began alongside his early interest in painting. Through pictorial language translated into paintings, collages, and videos, Stein’s work explores fashion design and advertising aesthetics. Between 2010 and 2012 she participated in the A-Project Award which supports young Argentinian artists. His exhibitions include “REAL FAKE”, Centro Cultural San Martín (Buenos Aires, 2022), “El Ojo en la boca” (The eye on the mouth), Quimera Galería (Buenos Aires, 2021), “La Piel Traslúcida” (Translucent Skin), Galería Haimney (Barcelona, 2019), “Form As a Context”, a collective of international artists at the Frost Art Museum (Miami, 2017) and “La Otra Luz”(The Other Light), Espacio Enso (Buenos Aires, 2014). His works were exhibited at international fairs alongside Quimera Gallery: ArteBA, SCOPE Miami, Art Toronto, Art Lima and Cosmoscow. In 2020 and 2021 he did a residency at Uberbau_haouse, São Paulo, Brazil. In 2021 he published his first artistic book “Noche Abierta” (Uncovered Night), Patricia Rizzo Publishing House, 2021, his work has been included in Latinoamérica al Limite volumes (Arte al Límite, 2014) and Circuitos del Arte (Arte Al Límite, 2018). Stein’s work can be found at private collections in Argentina, Canada, Chile, Spain, the United States, England, Peru, South Africa and Uruguay.
2022 Pabli Stein: Real Fake, Centro Cultural San Martín, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Curaduría por Hernan Giagante.
2021 Pabli Stein: El ojo en la boca, Quimera Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Curaduría por Irene Gelfman.
2019 Pabli Stein: La piel traslucida, Haimney Galería, Barcelona, España. Texto por Marcelo Dansey, curaduría de Irene Carbonari. [Catálogo]
2017 Pabli Stein: Obras Recientes, OTTO Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Texto por Eduardo Stupía. [Catálogo]
2016 Pabli Stein: Los pies y la ventana (Site-Specific) Quimera Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina. [Catálogo]
2015 Pabli Stein: Color oculto, Espacio ENSO, Buenos Aires, Argentina. [Catálogo]
2014 Pabli Stein: La otra luz, Espacio ENSO, Buenos Aires, Argentina. [Catálogo] Texto por Eugenio Cuttica.
2013 Pabli Stein: Cada vez más cerca, Bisagra Arte Contemporáneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Texto por Patricia Rizzo.
2012 Pabli Stein: Upright Blood , WTC, Montevideo, Uruguay. [organizada por Bisagra Arte Contemporáneo]
Group exhibitions (Selection)
2021 Aprendí que en un milímetro del cielo esta todo el cielo, BA Photo, Buenos Aires Argentina. Curaduría Irene por Gelfman.
2020 Sentimientos Encontrados, Quimera Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2017 Form as a Context, Frost Art Museum, Miami, Florida, USA. curaduría por Bárbara Bollini.
2016 Bosquejar, esbozar, proyectar [tomo II], Quimera Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Curaduría por Santiago Bengolea y Javier Aparicio. [Catálogo]
2015 Colección Patricia Rizzo, Museo Evita-Palacio Ferreyra, Córdoba, Argentina.
2014 Antiarruga Granate Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Texto por Natacha Voliakovsky.
2014 Pirámide Selva, Laboratorio de Festival, Buenos Aires Argentina.
2013 Aventura, 2Alas, Miami, FL, USA.
2012 Con-vivir, Zavaleta Lab, Buenos Aires, Argentina. [catálogo]
2011 Post, Meridion AC, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Curaduría por Nicolás Sobrero.
2011 Bastidores Urbanos, Mural para la municipalidad de Tigre, Argentina.
Performances & Projects
2023 What are you looking at? Fachada del Centro Cultural San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Instalación en espacio público.
2022 Finissage, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Performance y short film en conjunto con Sebastián Muro.
2017 Stein & Muro, The Clubhouse, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Performance y videoinstalación en conjunto con Sebastián Muro.
2015 ARTEBA 2015, Proyecto A arte contemporáneo. Bs As, Argentina. Performance y videoinstalación en conjunto con Sebastián Muro.
2015 La Flor Militante (flower by Kenzo), Museo de arte decorativo. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Escultura y Performance.
2014 Noche y día, Quimera Galería, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Performance y videoinstalación en conjunto con Sebastián Muro con la colaboración de Salvador Rivera concierto en vivo.
2012 Premio Proyecto A (11ºedición), Proyecto A arte contemporáneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2011 Premio Proyecto A (10º edición), Proyecto A arte contemporáneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2010 Premio Proyecto A (9º edición), Proyecto A arte contemporáneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2020, Diplomado Arte y Sociedad: coordinado por Curatoria Forense, Sao Pablo, Brazil.
2010-2017 taller de pintura coordinado por Daniel Callori, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2014-15 Laboratorio de obra: coordinado por Claudio Roncoli y Mariana Rodriguez Iglesias, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2004-2006 taller de pintura coordinado por Marcelo Buraczeck. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Colección Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, Argentina.
Colección Patricia Rizzo, Argentina.
Colección Mariela Ivanier, Argentina.
Colección Ignacio Bustamante, Perú.
Colecciones Privadas en Argentina, Canadá, Chile, España, Estados Unidos, Inglaterra, Perú, Uruguay y Sudáfrica.
Exhibitions in the following Art Fairs
2023 PINTA PARC, Quimera Galería, Lima, Perú.
2022 ART TORONTO, Quimera Galería, Toronto, Canadá.
2022 PINTA PARC, Quimera Galería, Lima, Perú.
2021 COSMOSCOW, Quimera Galería, Moscú, Rusia.
2020 ART TORONTO, Quimera Galería, Toronto, Canadá.
2020 ART LIMA, Quimera Galería, Lima, Perú.
2020 Art Palm Beach, Quimera Galería, Palm Beach, USA.
2020 ESTE arte, Quimera Galería, Punta del Este, Uruguay.
2019 ART TORONTO, Quimera Galería, Toronto, Canadá.
2019 ART LIMA, Quimera Galería, Lima, Perú.
2019 ESTE Arte, Quimera Galería, Punta del Este, Uruguay.
2018 SCOPE Art Show, Quimera Galería, Miami Beach, USA.
2018 Kunst for Alle, Kuvio.DK, Øksnehallen, Denmark.
2016 AAF Art Fair, Escarlata, New York, USA.
2016 L.A. Art Show, Escarlata, Los Ángeles, California, USA.
2015 ARTEBA, Proyecto A arte contemporáneo, Bs As, Argentina.
2015 ESTE arte, Marte arte contemporáneo, Punta del Este, Uruguay.
2013 ARTEBA, Bisagra Arte Contemporáneo, Bs As, Argentina.
2012 ARTEBA, Bisagra Arte Contemporáneo, Bs As, Argentina.
My work explores the conflict between what is exhibited and what is hidden. It expands between the fields of painting, collage, video, and installation, where the presence of one of these languages evokes the absence of another one. Both in collage and painting, the work is nourished by photographs related to fashion and advertising aesthetics. I superimpose layers of color as if they were layers of meaning until the original figure becomes blurred and the erosion of the reference begins to reveal itself. If something becomes too obvious, I discard it. In the end, the image is immersed into the unknown, while the pictorial language arises almost as another character, making the veil more significant than the veiled object. At times when everything is exposed my intention is to recover the lost luster which underlies the strength of what is hidden.
Editorials, interviews and articles in print and academic media
TENENBAUM, Tamara: “No todo lo que oculta es un secreto”, Regia Mag, páginas 14-17, 2023.
Articles and interviews in digital media
We live surrounded by images that stimulate our imagination – whether through memory or anticipation – but when confronted with them we can’t help but wonder: where is this alternative way of life? El ojo en la boca forces us to assume that we are trapped in images, enveloped in a sick visuality that tempts us to die of iconicity. We act like Beckett’s characters in an eternal and absurd wait for a promised happiness that never comes. We are dispossessed of the power of action and nothing belongs to us.
Pabli Stein works with images from the world of advertising and fashion. A language made up of words and images that traps us wherever we go, wherever we read, wherever we are. They are representations charged with a hedonistic gaze, with an eagerness to turn each photographic session into an incitement to joy, sex and the consumption of luxury goods. A celebration of excess. The artist is aware of this machinery and plays with it in an unprejudiced, daring and brazen way.
A characteristic of Stein’s aesthetic is to throw himself – without fear of prejudice – into working with the perversity of luxury present in the images he selects, where the models take the place of the goddesses and muses of Renaissance paintings to become pagan icons of a culture of consumption and saturation. His works reveal the ephemeral happiness of consumption and confront us with a universe where less is not more. Pabli Stein produces from what has already been produced, resignifying existing signs and introducing them into new spaces: from the catwalk and magazines to the world of contemporary art. Today things are no longer clear. Just as advertising used the discursive strategies of European oil painting, art incorporated, with its great power of phagocytisation, the world of fashion. We are living in a new model of hybridisation, witnessing an era in which the boundaries between the cultural and the commercial have been broken down. And while no one can deny that capitalism produces horror, it also has the ability to produce beautiful things.
El ojo en la boca puts the accent on a cliché in vogue, Stein confronts us with the gesture of taking the images that are available to everyone and appropriating them in order to, in this multiplication and manipulation, grant each one the value of an original. The key lies in his gaze, in his selection, and in this fortuitous encounter between the advertising image and his eye. Chance comes into play in the creative process. Stein cuts out, intervenes and makes up. His gesture resides in subtleties, in veiling with small drips of paint, aerosol, layers of material, glitter and minimal cut-outs. Each image with which the artist works, in itself, is charged with desire, but a desire that now has a double distance because of the impossibility of the concretion of that promise of happiness and because of the veiling that the artist places. The proposal resides in looking at what remains visible, summoning up what has disappeared, examining the traces, the traces that the artist leaves in that (very) act of concealing.
According to an anecdote Lawrence Alloway used to tell, American audiences in the 60s died to see Rothko’s paintings “live”: his fans anxiously waited for each show, ready to travel great distances by taxi or tarnished subways and wait hours at a museum’s door in order not to miss his famous color fields. But Rothko himself was only obsessed with how the colors of his paintings would look in Vogue magazine. When he painted, he chose his materials and light in line with that expectation. What mattered least to him about his paintings is what they looked like “live.” Maybe Alloway was exaggerating, but the disagreement between the artist and his audience mirrors Lacan’s example about a guitar, a long braid of hair, a man, and a woman by commenting that sexual intercourse (at least for a heterosexual cis couple) is impossible, doomed to be a non-relationship, a disconnection. By the time Alloway told the anecdote, painting was already an accomplished semiotic fact accepted in the twentieth century communicative deities’ Olympus. It was already so when Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, and Niele Toroni, along with Michel Parmentier, “gave up” painting in the text they signed as a complementary statement to their exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris in January 1967:
Since to paint is to represent the outside world (or interpret it, or appropriate it, or contest it, or present it) […]
Since to paint is a justification.
Since to paint serves something.
Since to paint is to paint for the purpose of aestheticism, of flowers […] psychoanalysis, of the war in Vietnam.
WE ARE NOT PAINTERS.
Rereading today this anti-manifesto of sorts by the four painters, we find that Buren and company did not give up typical painter stuff, such as light or angles or complementarity, etc., but semiotics stuff such as promotional rhetoric, justification, interpretation, etc. Even then artists (or their gallerists) used to appeal to different rhetorical instruments to make a sale, to the point of saying, depending on the client, the painting itself dealt with psychoanalysis, love, or the Vietnam War. According to Rothko, the painting operation is subjected to the discretion of graphic printing, mass media. According to Buren, to the promotional rhetoric of the art market. In both cases, painting has a ruler: advertising, “communication” as a discipline.
This compilation of Pabli Stein’s paintings in book form allows us to review some of these themes and to consider how they are reflected in his work, targeting the double semiotic life of painting (painting “in itself” and as a communicative fact). We will particularly see that the dangerous relationship between painting and fashion photography recreates a primary scene, where the medium itself (painting) may or may not show its face. And it is worth starting with a rule: every painting has (at least) a double life, which shapes its presence in other media. Just as celebrities appear at parties and on social media, paintings have been spreading over all kinds of communication planes centuries ago, since they began to be recognized and valued. This process (acknowledged by Alloway in his anecdote) escalated in magnitude and acceleration merely in the last century.
In Stein’s case (and a particular tradition of painters who wavered between expressive abstraction, chromatic lyricism, and recurring fashion images), this relationship can also be reversed, as the advertising image itself can be nested within the painting, as its subject matter. “Stein’s paintings are always based on photographs deliberately taken or from fashion magazines; the procedure behind his compositions is collage.” In his first Bisagra gallery solo exhibition (2013) catalog, Patricia Rizzo points out that fashion iconography always appears somewhat hidden, divined, slightly clandestine.
Collage is the very core element and the source for the paintings. The relationship between painting and advertising photo is ancillary, as collages are made from magazines, and paintings are based on those collages. Since his large-format paintings from 2012 on, the procedure is already clear. Impasto and velatures give shape to color planes, either partitioned or continuous. These planes do not necessarily compose a figure, but they roughly always dilute it or cover it, further distorting the original images’ contents, subjected to collage operations as cutting and connecting, and to the points of gravity and chromatic saturation, usually shifting between color and pure value.
But we could go backwards: not from the advertising photo to the painting, but the other way around. We would find, again, three —in part refractory and to a certain extent supportive— orders in Stein’s work. First, operation with pigment, format, and light in front of the canvas. Second, collage of advertising images during sketching. Third, the chosen fashion magazines subject matter: arms, hairs, straps, shirts, and skirts that may be recognized in a very abbreviated, marginal, ghostly way. Three possible traditions converge in these three orders, whose interactions have not always been harmonic: the range of neo-expressionisms (physical semantics of brushing, splashing, dripping, etc.), pop as its original British notion (painting-collage in the vein of Eduardo Paolozzi’s late 1940s works) and a blurred cloud of lyrical endeavors related to the human figure and fashion, with the veil as its primary sign. According to the former, fashion is just image, not industry (Wolfgang Tillmans’ photographs illustrate it better than anything). In pop, it is quite the opposite, fashion is an empty sign, pure circulation (pure industry without contents).
Stein’s works, with or without traces of a human figure, possess a bodily theatrical quality that surpasses the logic of empty signs; their stature is such that a viewer can recognize himself as homologous. Facing these paintings, even if we do not recognize any bangs, profiles, or glimpses of human bodies, we can presume there is someone there. What remains hidden, instead of what, could be who.
Let us take a few words from an interview with the artist, connected to his work with fashion photography and the title for one of his shows: Everything Must Glow:
—What does Everything Must Glow mean to you?
—The desire to open that closed sense that fashion and advertising often suggest. The title came about by reviewing notes I make about the fashion and design magazines I work with. I am seduced by the way they point out “beauty” today: timeless and constant perfection.
What does it mean to “open” that closed sense? I would like to compare this quote with another by Eduardo Stupía. In reference to Stein’s painting, he says: “in [a] deliberately restricted ground, hidden behind a discreet decor […] lurks the purest, sharpest and pulsing face of a throbbing and turbulent painter.”
It seems both quotes might be incompatible, at first glance. Stupía notes there is something restricted in Stein’s work, a “decor” hiding the “pulsional turbulence” of painting. But Stein himself, on the other hand, says that his work is not about covering and hiding, but opening, showing… showing what? Even some of his titles (I dreamed you revealed…) seem to point in this direction.
Of course, Stupía is aware there is something seemingly inappropriate in a pictorial program that simultaneously remains within collage’s formal rules and the expressive, chromatic, and gestural lyricism of pulsional “turbulence”. Collage artists are rational and oblivious to all vertigo. But “decor” seems to point in a different direction. Perhaps “decorative” does not suggest collage but a universe of images strongly based on fashion photography (I mentioned Tillmans as an example earlier). According to Stein, however, collage’s dimension appears halfway between the gravitational thrust of pure painting and fashion images, a magic stroke that turns advertising’s object of desire into an empty sign, a sign about its own circulation. That is why pop art, as a rough idea, is diametrically opposed to decor. To put it bluntly, painting or taking pictures of a photogenic creature, a Chinese vase, a cute kitten (where fashion is offered as content) is one thing, and exposing fashion procedures in its own way of conditioning its subject matter, or building it, is a different story. (What Paolozzi, Warhol, Thomas Hirschhorn, among many others, did.) Stein tensions the relationship between these two principles.
According to Stupía, then, the inherent decorativity in the beauty of consumer products and people’s beauty standards covers the turbulent throbbing reality that lurks beneath. This may be right, but the pulsional reality to cover is already encrypted (and repressed) in the images operated by Stein. He says he intends to “open” these images —strange as it may seem— covering them with paint. Instead of a pulsional painter, Stein takes the place of a psychoanalyst working with other people’s drives, inverting them, mirroring them. More specifically, he works with the deposits of desire invested in fashion photography. These drives do not belong to the painter, but to the consumers.
The idea that there is a violent throbbing reality under beauty’s cipher, and that beauty itself is nothing but a “veil” before horror, is an idea with a rich story. This topic is covered in Jacques Lacan’s seminar on ethics (1959-60). At that point, he had already foreshadowed the concept of the real. Lacan defined beauty as the “last veil” before the well of the real in its unspeakable, violent, and dark state. One of the most curious passages in the seminary is dedicated to Provencal poetry, a lyrical tradition of singing praise to female beauty and courteous love. The world-famous example for it is Petrarch, but it can still be traced into the sonnets of Shakespeare and beyond. Lacan differentiates the constant sublimation given to sexual desire in this lyrical tradition to an apocryphal text, a (virulently pornographic) description of female genitalia. The beauty of courteous love is then characterized by circumventing, covering, and ennobling what appears crudely objectified as revulsion and violence.
Behind any beauty stereotype there is something tenebrious, something sinister. Studying communication’s magnets is not to study desire, but rather to study the social models that represent it in a tricked way. Women’s fashion photography and the semiosis of body beauty, in Stein’s works, recreate this device but open it to its blind spots.
The sinister aspect in some of the paintings derives from a special form of empathy where there seems to be a character. But, on the one hand, it does not show its face (figures never show their faces), and, on the other hand, we know that it is only a recreation in painting of a collage, made with photos of a clothes display where a model posed under a director’s orders, surrounded by cameras and assistants. Little information about the person who seems remotely insinuated behind this shape reaches us: just a few traces of an outwardly working situation: strong lights, loose things, chroma backgrounds. The sinister element (since Freud, we know it means the “unfamiliar”) arises from a dissociation between the fashion photo system (where the model’s body must be depleted in front of the consumers’ wanting gaze) and the signs of a diffuse human presence. We cannot even see its face but even the works’ own build tells us it is present. Although shoes, jewelry or flowers are relatively prominent, as in a normal fashion photo, in Stein’s paintings we cannot find a libidinal surrender to the object. Rather, some kind of cracked relationship between painting, photography and the images’ emotional memory, evoking Gerhard Richter’ ideas.
A good example is Nueva Virgen (New Virgin), where the figure is covered in white, as a blinding flash. Another is Voodoo Child, a painting with many layers where the tone becomes sharper “up” or “forward” and more blended with the previous layers remaining in the background, or Untitled (runway), an example of a fashion sign disfigured until it becomes tenebrous. There could be a person looking towards, there could be an arm. By the title, we understand this is a working situation in the fashion industry. But it is a totally estranged situation.
It might seem there is something rigid and representative (“decorative”) in advertising photography, as opposed to another non-semiotic force (turbulent expression), but the opposite could also be said, and it would be an idea with interesting consequences. Something “desirable” in the fashion photography register is desirable within a device, the gaze (with its clear marks of gender, class, and ethnicity, coextensive to a flourishing physical and emotional exploitation industry). But if that gaze breaks down, what is desirable in the tension of the poses and the manipulation of the body?
At that point Stein’s work takes a dramatic charge, reminiscent of Lacan’s example of Provencal poetry: violence against another person is not present where it is brazenly shown, but mostly where it is immobilized in the possession of desirable attributes (whether guitar strings or long hair). There is no possible empathy within the gaze, defined by exploitation. But what happens outside? Is there anything, or anybody, on the other side?
Finally, I will comment on some actions on the strict level of painting as a medium. On the one hand, they allow this sinister effect, and blur the gaze, and on the other hand, they expose the role of painting “as paint” in the recreation of images dominated by advertising photography. “Painting as paint” in Stein’s works is almost a character and it has a function: to stand between the figure and the viewer’s eye. White’s capability to veil is rather an ability to blur, in works such as Vanish (p. xx). When you lay a washed layer of white paint on a color sediment, light is allowed to enter the areas it covers. In contrast, dark sections without a white veil above them remain refractory. Therefore, color is better appreciated when it is partially “covered” by white, illuminating the painting like a speleologist’s lantern in a grotto.
In some cases, it is similar to a fumage effect, such as in Atrapasueños (Dream Catchers) and Árido espejismo (Arid Mirage). Other works have drippings and some sort of Tachisme pirouettes, such as Double Sorrow and Voodoo Child (Rosa Reflex), with their cigarette pack red.
In his late 1940s works, Paolozzi included human figures taken from advertising and generated a parody of sexual stereotypes (male and female) in the early post-war period and its economy of consumer goods. However, there is nothing “unconscious” in ex-soldiers looking men or pin-up style women. In Stein’s materials, conversely, there is not as much background and figure as rather database and surface. The database is provided by fashion photography, a database where consumers navigate, continually rummaging through their own preferences and affections around their meaning of beauty. This is not an irony or anything of the sort. Fashion photos are actually data produced from the aggregation of hundreds of thousands of personal choices, reactions, likes, comments, and posts, etc. There is nothing new on the subject, and it is not worth stopping to explain it. Goals from weekend football matches and TV comedies’ funny segments are also referenced, arbitrated, user-modeled data.
But strangely, this “deep” world of databases is not the real thing: in Lacan’s terminology, they are imaginary. It is not the world of desire, but the result of chaining desire to its representations. Let us think about a 2010s corporation, Instagram, a social network full of beauty stereotypes. The network’s deep architecture, which allows it to operate commercially, is not about the photos’ contents but the users’ database-stored patterns of preference. The database knows nothing about the beauty of cats, babies, young people’s role models, current star actors, or talented football players who also take care of their diet. The database only lets its users build a common fantasy within them. For the database, cats do not exist. They are just another fantasy, a desiring and anonymous construction.
Figures in Stein’s paintings, such as the fashionable photos from which they stem, are made of these libidinal sediments. But these are decontextualized sediments, located in the vacuum of pictorial operations that recreate at will the advertising photography environment or dilute it in its own semiosis. At that point, his work is pop. His figures remain halfway between the overwhelming sensation of a photo shoot, the unreal quality of the original advertising images, and the pigments’ weightless attachment on the canvas.
That is why the strangeness (the sinister effect) is akin to a self-perception moment, a recognition of the underlying conditions to fantasy production within the database. Painting only offers an environment to simulate these creatures in order to allow a vestige of empathy and the feeling that there is someone there, even if we do not see them clearly, even if they never show us their faces.
As in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, the characters begin to notice themselves as effects of a cinematic device when it begins to be flawed, when it starts to be perceived as a device. For example, the scene where one of the protagonists collapses on stage, while the song he was singing in front of a microphone keeps sounding; or the casting scenes, where the other protagonist barely recognizes the stitch of her own life as fiction. The awakening the figures watch is the plane’s breakup. White chroma and the photo studio’s surgical order is contaminated with black particles, flashes become clusters of white paint that capture light as if something is going wrong. There is no model; or rather, the only model is ideology, the deep database that keeps all fantasies in order, until something begins to be seen distorted.
Pablo Stein’s painting seems to manifest, or happen, in a certain state of conflict, a conflagration between elements that struggle to prevail over one another, but ultimately neither appears as dominant. And this may be due to an orderly decision, a structural program, or a consequence of an inner quality of the artist, debating between forces, magnitudes and movements that break in and backward indistinctly into the territory of the painters’ practical consciousness, that turns the medium and the canvas into some kind of battlefield.
Unmistakable figures, invariably feminine and almost always turning their backs, or slit-side glancing a smooth half-profile, developed halfway between reference and geometric synthesis, sometimes metamorphose into formless silhouettes, strangely voluptuous lumps, and survive the onslaught of a convulsed exudation of squirted, blown paint in a dissruptive fight of thick crossings, splashes and brushes.
If a taxonomy of these components were to be tested, it could be ascertained that they come from both very pregnant and identifiable iconographic sources – the rhetoric and mannerisms of fashion photography, figurative stylization – as of various genres and techniques – material abstraction, prototypical strokes, stains, wild brushstrokes and action painting outpourings – which are also nourished by terms usually conceived as opposed, in a polarity where the dilemma, or dialectics between action and reflection takes a leading role again. Textures and pigments, fluidity and density, corporeal and atmospheric, contrast and combination, visible and occluded come together and apart, they coalesce and dilute, as a secular alchemy’s fluids and elements that contest the thematic and semantic physiognomy of each piece, being useless, or impossible to detect their ultimate affiliation, other than the clash of modalities and stimuli, if not opposite, at least disparate.
When he engages in paper collage on paper, and despite still being captured by this dystopian tune, Stein finds in this medium a more restrained variant, as if the temperament he displays in his paintings now imposes a pause, a respite, between colored papers covered in glitter, tracing paper used as glazing – equivalent to the vaporous acrylic clouds obscuring the planes – and photographs dissolved in mutilated clippings on which aerosol shots suddenly burst.
A zone of deceptive formalism opens up here, a paroxismal fervor gives way to a more elegant, less overwhelmed sensibility. And all at once, in this deliberately restricted ground, hidden behind a discreet decorativity, and in the residues of altered images in loud surface effects, lurks the purest, sharpest and pulsing face of a throbbing and turbulent painter who, momentarily secluded, gets ready for the moment to return to the fray.
Eduardo Stupia, April 2017.
Pabli Stein: Elegy of Transformation
Turning a silent fragment into an imposing image is only a couple of clippings away. This simple yet elaborate and complex choice and selection is closely linked to the conception in which Pabli Stein understands his work.
As we know, collage is an artistic technique, consisting of assembling diverse elements into a unified whole. The term applies mostly to painting, but by and large it may imply any other art form such as music, cinema, literature or music video. It derives from the French coller, which means gluing. Pabli seems to take from more than one art form, undoubtedly his production stems from painting and connects to it, but music videos’ aesthetics are very akin to his compositions; cinematographic and advertising photography appear as references and a manifest musicality looms in his visual narratives, which end up linked in a complex and contemporary structure mix.
His photographs, or fragments, reconstruct images that become entirely cryptic. Sometimes his choices are focused on a texture, a matter, a halo of brightness, certain conflicting aspects; the beautiful breast of a perfect female… excess light in a beach scene, a color’s depth. Among the elements, in an intricately stripped-down way, beauty is blunt. His gaze slips out, amazed at symmetry between dissonant elements, a corner, a lipstick’s sheen or the excessive presence of a jewel. His inquest draws on many sources, diverse aesthetics, but it’s always very careful and it’s linked, in many cases, to a fashion and advertising imprint.
His compositions do not resort to overstatements, or to those images shown as merely striking; as if opulence should always be present, but divined, slightly clandestine. If something becomes a little obvious, he discards it, he likes to spot it; a fine indication, discovered rather than manipulated.
His aim has often focused on double meanings, although it could also be said that for him meaning is secondary, that he is more interested in the ensuing images and what he receives and what emanates from them. Thus he considers the pre-existing illustrations and their original sources, in order to give them another direction, sometimes poetic, but above all aesthetic.
Stein has achieved something important with his production, and has done so very early in the evolution of his work; his collages are easily recognizable; they inspire a sense of identity that is their own.
Ideas of visual grammar fly over and attest the distinctive knowledge of a never worn-out voyeur who, furthermore, revels in seeking and pursuing the charm of a bare minimum. As Henry Thoreau said: because my greatest skill has been to want but little.
You might be able to put on hold questions about categorization when dealing with Pabli Stein. Is this collage? Is it painting by other means? Next-generation appropriationism? For this edition of arteBA12, Stein challenges us with the shares, selections and mashups we use to build our private cultural archives, unsystematic and heterogeneous but nevertheless shareable. Let’s think about the images around us from the time we get up until we go to bed, in all their versions and mediums. They would establish a universal public heirloom of all possible visual situations. Undoubtedly, such a vast universe is impossible to comprehend. Stein’s work intends to be a somewhat tight and overlapping conglomerate of slices from this cosmos. His field of action is comprised of fashion magazines and scraps of printed fabric. His compositions set a pendular course between collage and décollage, between a juxtaposition of appropriated images and a display of overlapping layers, between the restoration of a different rationality and archaeology in present time. On the whole, it offers alternative paths for advertising and fashion signs. They are usually shown with the prepotence of a settled significance, while Stein’s conglomerates are open, unfinished signs. Every figure is trimmed, at some points covered, partially denied. From this overlapping of unfinished signs, we can appreciate a new, distinct one emerging, with its own rules and codes that leave behind the logic of advertising in order to meet painting.
Fascinated by the images in fashion magazines, Pabli Stein takes them by storm, makes them his own, unquestionably as an excuse to unleash his other passion, painting. Figurative reconstruction of images that obsess him is a task he undertakes with a painters’ religious dedication. But the image never turns out steady, it does not become a faithful copy of the model, because in the process – as in the practice of pleasures –, you never know where or how it ends.
Stein accepts the task as a physical act. Fabric, which at the beginning serves as a bed for love, delimits a crime scene in the end. No crime of passion, that’s for sure. And at this point let’s open a parenthesis and say that when the art system is ruled by a virtually impersonal conceptualism, this sensitive freedom is read as a statement of principles. This is not an automatic, purely emotional act. He gives in to his instincts, he lets go, he gets lost, true. But he surrenders with eyes wide open; the artist examines his practice and, like every good lover, allows time to go by smoothly, intensely. It does not follow a binary mindset that can only recognize active/passive mode. He gives in to the interregnum of tension triggered by his object of desire. His painting reacts to a primary drive, the workshop; from some sort of inception between the artist and his model a fresh, powerful, uninhibited image arises.
M.S. Dansey, 2019
Images are there and they can be seen. To say that perception does the rest is, at this point, something obvious. A game of unveiling is established. Oscar Wilde explains it: “Everything we see hides something else, we always wish to see that, which hides what we are seeing”. To understand what is shown and what is hidden, to try to glimpse, even if only in a literary way, what was the artist’s intention in throwing a work of art into the world.
El ojo en la boca, Pabli Stein’s solo exhibition at Quimera Gallery confirms the initial hypothesis, by proposing an exercise of discovery that generates a lot of interest. In this exhibition, curated by Irene Gelfman, paintings, collage, objects, sculpture and video coexist under the artist’s well-known sign: the mixture of the advertising, the glamorous, the veiled and the modestly tenebrous. The veiling in Stein’s artworks is explicit, he chooses not to show something because he considers it obvious.
Anyone who has seen a haute couture fashion show shares the cliché of apparent beauty and glamorous banality. What matters there is what is not seen, the humanity that lies beneath the hurried, careless graphics, it is indeed a son of a pompous gesture more than of a delicate and subtle outline. A pink brushstroke, wide and sinuous like a stream, breaks the classic scene of a fashion show, separates the models from the applause of the public, producing a suspension of the instant sought and needed by all. At one of the painting’s edges, the original photograph is torn, while at the other, shorter pink and white brushstrokes interpose and break the vision. Below, a hand in the foreground applauds or withdraws the models. The work, “Runway (pink)”, from 2021, is one of the most interesting, both for its visual resolution and for Stein’s idea, well achieved, of veiling and making mysterious what is apparently not so.
Stein’s double mechanism of concealment and revelation reaches a very high point in the collage “Soñé que revelabas (blue moon)”. The work is divided into two planes of almost equal size: in the upper part, the face of a model appears, as in a dream, veiled by a blue that moves between light and dark, stressing a nocturnal and fabulous atmosphere.
The half that Stein chooses not to show contains in this case no ambiguity. A uniform plane of bright blue covers it all and completes the portrait. The curator was right to have used this same material to cover one of the main walls of the gallery, giving it visual continuity and accentuating the script in a difficult space.
Another outstanding work in the exhibition escapes definition and is titled “Real Fake Mirror”. As its name suggests, it is a mirror, in this case broken and with its parts scattered on the floor and leaning against the wall. A fashion magazine with the image of a model playing with her hand in lingerie. An sumptuous ring enhances the reference to wealth and luxury, but what holds the image is actually broken and scattered into pieces.
Pabli Stein’s creative process, conceptually and practically complex, escapes snobbery in its results. His work condenses technical perfection, beauty and justice in a video, “Real Fake”, projected in loop on a wall of the gallery’s patio. This piece was made together with Sebastián Muro, in an artistic duo that brings painting and cinema closer together.
In El ojo en la boca, what starts in the gallery’s basement, continues in the courtyard and goes up to the street to dialogue inadvertently with the passerby. But that is not all. At the same venue, his book Noche Abierta (Open Night) was presented. It gathers his artworks from 2010 to date and puts them in conversation along with press texts and critical accesses of great interest.
When we were kids, those of us who are almost grown-ups now, the imaginary softness we knew and dreamed of was that of magazines. What we understood as beautiful skin was marked by the materiality of magazines, the cold touch and white sheen of those flat colors. Models are the substance in which we have known them. Rihanna twinkles with screen light. Kate Moss, on the other hand, has the gleam of paper. Perhaps because I grew up breathing those magazines, the first thing that strikes me about Pabli’s work and its inspiration from those materials is the escape from glossy flatness. The empty and uniform smoothness with which we knew those bodies is replaced by a different kind of radiance, one that comes from the depth of color, the courage of a brushstroke, the delicacy of transparency, the frankness of a flow, the broken and patched surface of a collage. Rihanna, Kate, Naomi, or the anonymous Ukrainian models in a McQueen runway now shine with a darkness that comes from below, rather than from within.
There is no search for the essence of truth in Pabli’s work; no attempt to unmask the fair of vanities. I recall an advertisement campaign from the early 2000s that became emblematic, Dove’s campaign for real beauty. I think of the inverse gesture in Pabli’s work, which, by using those glorified bodies as an excuse that later disappears in the painting, proposes the opposite hypothesis: all bodies are unreal, when looked at closely, when looked at as- kew, when reversed and repeated and cut and pasted until they lose their meaning like a word that is said too many times.
Those bodies are also hidden: the motive of the veil that covers those models who were invented to be exhibited is reiterated in Pabli’s work. I think it work for us that they are models, that they are similar bodies, in similar poses, both iconic and anonymous it favors us to be searching for a presence in every verticality, a shoulder in every angle, a waist in every curve. It serves us even though the subject is an excuse, it works as a gateway drug because, although art must go against semantic closure, it is always useful for the disoriented reader to be searching for something, a false clue, with the unbridled imagination of a jealous lover following the trail of a nonexistent mistress. It serves us to be searching for those models to give meaning to those veils, but it is a meaning that must be provisional be- cause what Pabli’s work demands of us is that if we want, we begin by searching but then we can learn to look without searching, with the understanding that the secret is that there is no secret; that the mystery is everywhere, behind the veil but also in the veil itself, in its texture, in its way of hiding and concealing, in those that are opaque and those that are suspiciously transparent. In the fashion shows of the nineties, it was common for a model to enter wearing a jacket, open it, and throw it on the floor. She would look at the camera, at the audience, with those eyes that one never understands if they are penetra- ting or lifeless. I always wondered, in the face of that scene on TV, whether the important thing was the jacket or the model, where one should be looking, at the girl who was leaving or at the coat lying on the floor. Pabli’s work speaks about many things, but I feel that it speaks to me about that, about that fundamental ambiguity.