“Two things that I think are successful in your work are: your knowledge of anatomy, your compositional structure. Particularly in the White Rope Series, I like how you isolated the figure. This has a strong psychological effect. This use of composition goes a long way in making your theme of boxing as metaphor effective...Great works of art are not “about” anything they “are” something.”
Dr. James Romaine (1), Assistant Professor of Art, New York based art historian (Oct 2010)
White Rope as metaphor
- Echoes of the struggles endured during the White Australia Policy and Civil Rights Movement (USA).
- Focuses on how rope has been used as a tool of oppression.
- Harnesses 'white' to highlight metaphysical themes of repression.
- Draws on the purposeful application of saturated colour to compose portraits of human temperature and emotion.
“My subjects surrender their power to the viewer and invite my luminous, layered strokes to echo their thoughts.”
Cabello’s series of boxers, painted in oils on linen, show luminous torsos woven into a grid of gestural drips. She uses an edited palette of primary colours to engage the viewer and let them step into the subjects’ sanctuary. By painting the colour temperature of her subjects she shares their resolve and journey. It is in this private place where the poignancy of each mans gaze is felt.
Her paintings are created using glazed transparent layers applied in an innovative, layered technique that she has developed over the years. Cabello becomes completely immersed in the piece and its evolution, as once the colour is applied it stays. Painting in this tiering technique allows for the luminosity of each layer to shine. From the woven veins of white to the heat of foreground red – inviting observation and consideration of the raw, gestural strokes that inhabit each piece.
The series explores the robust male and how society has created and disarmed him. The focus is on the individual and, like Michelangelo’s David; physicality does not make the task ahead less daunting.
Cabello’s emotive paintings explore the spectrum of her boxers’ story from the initiated to the robust. She contributes to the dialogue of the male image in art, while her subjects determine their white rope.
(1) Dr. James Romaine, a New York based art historian and co-founder of the New York Centre for Arts and Media Studies (NYCAMS), a program of Bethel University.
Catalogue Essay for Miriam Cabello
Australian artist Miriam Cabello takes on a daring approach by destabilising our traditional view of the Other. Her paintings bring our longstanding notion of oppression into the realm of the highly masculine, male boxer. Cabello’s intimate and provocative works considers the athletic physicality of the muscular male form juxtaposed against the subjugation and aggression often promoted by racial and gender stereotyping. She aims to shift our conventional view of the male, to twist our perception and engender new ways of thinking.
Cabello’s imagery is concerned with the human response to the binary of the black and white male. White Rope emerged from her innovative outlook towards the complex sociological and emotional aspects of such a sport. Her engagement is with ideas of difference as well as an exploration of notions relating to human physicality. The body is central, although always obliquely so. Using larger than life proportions, Cabello reconstructs her experience of a vigorous boxing match, carefully and intricately recreating the heightened emotion of the subject.
In Roped, ropes cut aggressively across the body of one subject, working to confine and inhibit, a concept that also features symbolically in other works such as White Rope I, II, and Blue Boy II.
In White Rope I, a young male boxer stands serenely, his expression restrained. The piece itself however, is highly emotive. Cabello presents the traditional heroic male figure with his distinct muscular lines, then throws it into flux with the contradiction of tones of flesh, solemness of expression and ‘tears’ of paint which exposes a certain vulnerability in the subject, evoking our sense of empathy and compassion.
Since childhood, Cabello has had a strong interest in the civil rights movements in both America and South Africa. She immersed herself in a myriad of mediums that dealt with civil rights and social justice issues which had an immense impact on the early development of her work. White Rope takes these concerns and focuses them on the concepts of sexuality, conflict and gender. The world of sports and in particular boxing is a key site of male domination, where aggression, bodily force, competition and physical skill are primarily associated with ‘maleness.’ Neither fetishist, grandeur nor flamboyant, Cabello’s work presents men searching for their masculine selfhood amongst the idea of healthy and powerful masculinity so insistently invoked in the muscled body. Generally coming from an underprivileged background, black boxers learned early in life that they had to fight hard to survive and succeed, an idea that Cabello accurately presents in her White Rope series.
Her artistic inspiration has transpired from an osmosis between the rapid movement of Abstract Expressionism and the Old Masters’ historical painting techniques from the 13th to 19th Centuries. Cabello’s works demonstrate a unique technical process that at first glance, one assumes the figures are screen-printed or airbrushed. The delicate brushstrokes and saturated transparent colours materialise in the form of oil on linen.
A revitalised subjectivity is displayed in Golden Boy, in which a highly muscular male figure is seen emerging (or descending) into space. However, the ambiguity of purpose and movement of the subject is not confusing but instead hosts a number of dramatic possibilities that add to the richness of the painting. Cabello’s images embrace uncertainty, limitations and contradiction, and in doing so, viewers are made privy to moments of great vulnerability.
In all the paintings in the White Rope series, a geometric, methodically laid grid acts as an oppressive force imprisoning the subject in isolation. This is juxtaposed with drips of paint that thrash the subject with whip-like strokes. Using glazed transparent layers that embed these strokes in the figure, Cabello constructs the works with a limited palette, yet the vibrancy and intensity is far from minimal.
The traditional male image in art is one of power, possession and domination. In White Rope, Cabello has taken the highly masculine domain of sport and contrasted it with not only the idea of the Black male as Other, but also the power of emotion, and in doing so she thus repudiates the very notions of the emblematic black male and athlete. The paintings manifest a variety of themes like adoration, fear, sexuality and ironically, tenderness. Cabello’s work in this series comments on flux and uncertainty and portrays the multifarious in-between space that thrives on the hybridity of identity and emotion.
by Melissa Clark
View paintings available for purchase
- Wiggins, David K. 1997. Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America. Syracuse: NY
- Smith, Terry. 1997. In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity. Power Institute of Fine Arts: Sydney
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© Miriam Cabello:
Top: White Rope series hanging in artist's studio, St Peters.
Middle: Garrett I (detail).
Bottom: Ron Richards II (detail).
White Rope: Awards + Exhibitions (selected)
||DUMBO Arts Festival. Brooklyn, NY, USA.
||National Art Museum of Sport, Indianapolis, USA. Finalist and selected to exhibit.
||24th Manhattan Arts International, New York, USA. Winner: Painting Division.
||Fifth Annual International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Florence, Italy
Winner: Painting Division, presented by Christo.