Las Imágenes Negras

Black is the conspicuous feature unifying Iliana Ortega’s series of images — a series I am tempted to call, after Goya, las imágenes negras.

Although trained as a painter, Ortega now works at the interface between photography and the manual techniques of drawing, painting, even scratching. Still, the central place of the camera — as opposed to the paintbrush – turns Ortega from creator to receiver and takes black from the realm of abstraction into the world: black becomes night.

The nocturnal is the true heart of this series. Night as a way of seeing, a perceptual state: when the visible hovers at the breaking point of its own emergence. In this way her work draws as much from the installation artist James Turrell as from photographers Robert Adams or John Gossage.

Ortega’s night is not the sulfuric orange of an urban night (there are no people in her work) but the darker night of the periphery. A world of barn silhouettes, country fireworks, rural alleyways. Sometimes – it seems – we might even be leagues under water: in an ocean night of air-traces. Most fascinating in this context is the manipulated photograph of sparkles upon the surface of a lake. Intellectually, we know this photograph must belong to the afternoon. Yet the encroaching darkness turns night back into metaphor – as any instance when color is lost and recognition frustrated when the line between abstraction and figuration is itself obscured. This disorientation is one of the key pleasures to be had in Ortega’s work – a disorientation that is less jarring than it is poetic. In Ortega’s best images we are never quite sure what we are looking at.

Unlike Goya who depicted horror, Ortega is interested in wonder. Night in Spanish — as in all romance languages — is feminine: la noche. In Ortega’s images it becomes almost maternal, lambent.

The longer one looks at these images the more they glow with the humble beauty of the world.

— Joshua Sperling

Selected Works