Ines Medina

In search of identity


I fi rst met Inés Medina at a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Mario Salegi, an old Basque exile –now deceased– settled in New York. Even today, more than ten years later, I still wonder how we managed to become friends. Both of us being bilbainos resettled in New York defi nitely played a part; so did the fact that we had arrived there at the same time –even if it took us more than two years to get to know each other. Even so, these two factors are not enough to account for our friendship, especially considering that both of us are fairly reserved, introverted even.

Our second meeting took place at a coffee shop on 57th St., although I don’t remember how or why we ended up there. I do know, however, that once we sat down with our coffees, a spontaneous exchange of personal experiences followed. The bonding between us that afternoon was so genuine, so strong, that somewhere during the conversation, the “click” of empathy must have been more or less audible. It was Friday and late admission to the nearby MOMA was free, so we went to see an exhibition.

Although the fact that Inés was a painter had caught my attention from the very beginning, what really impressed me was that, into middle age, she had given up all the certainties of life in a place like Bilbao to make a fresh start in New York. This was all the more remarkable as she spoke not a word of English at the time! When I found that out, I felt pretty sure I was dealing with some kind of visionary or, worse still, someone who was impulsive to the point of recklessness. I reckon I wasn’t the only one to think that way, but I also know Inés couldn’t have cared less about what I or anyone else might have thought. From where I was standing, it wasn’t exactly easy to imagine how perfectly all the pieces fi tted together in her mind. Not that that was ever going to spare her from the difficulties involved in adapting to a city like New York.

One thing soon became clear about Inés, even before I got to know her well: there is a formidable, steely determination behind everything she does. It’s a kind of determination that an impartial observer might have described as suicidal; and yet it was incredibly contagious and inspiring for anyone who managed to tap into it. Then her extraordinary ability to identify and stimulate the creative potential in people who, for some reason or other, until then had simply turned their backs on it. For such people, Inés was an unhesitating and inspiring guide, either in painting lessons or simply through her capacity to empathize. Her determination never failed with insecure or hesitant artist s, even if –as in my own case– they worked in disciplines different from hers. It is a wonderful quality, so fulfi lling when applied instinctively but wisely, as much for the person who transmit s it as for the person who absorbs it. Even so, Inés has often had doubt s about it, particularly when she felt that too much of her energy was being aimed in that direction to the detriment of her own work.

And so we come to Inés’s own centre of gravity: her work. Rather than developing along a logical, linear path, with each set of paintings springing out of the one before in a kind of natural progression –which to begin with disconcerted me, trained as I was to think in terms of monochord sequences– her work confront s the problem at hand from a range of apparently unconnected angles. With her it is a question of trying different tactics and techniques, of testing their usefulness as she makes headway with the themes she’s exploring. In a sense, Inés’s work reminds me of an army marching on different front s, but which attacks on one front only at any given time, the other columns coming to a halt while the current action takes place. Later, the untried columns will feed on the achievement s obtained when the time comes for them to move again on their own front s but towards the same goal. The artist divides her energy accordingly between front s, placing the focus on one at a time, with all of them gaining in depth as she does so. We don’t realize how each front feeds off all the others until we are given the whole view. This is an incredibly ambitious way of working, one largely sustained by two qualities: courage and versatility.

Also, Inés’s work rest s on the logic of accumulation, as she tries out different paths destined to lead her to the same reality. Each path contributes with it s own learning process, which is enhanced when added to the experience brought by the previous one, the one complementing the other. Each set of paintings is linked to a previous one, but not necessarily to the one immediately before, even if it also feeds off that experience (see for instance set no. 18, Joy of Self, painted between 2004 and 2006, the origins of which can be traced to set no. 5, The
Psychoanalytic Meaning (1982-1985), through set s no. 14, The Flowers of Evil Or Emptying the Content of the Mind, and 15, The Transcendence of the Ego or Unifi cation; or set no. 16, Who I Also Am, associated with set s no. 13, The World of Forms, and no. 11, Analyzing the Limit Between Two Dot s – Mind, Heart and Brain.) In this way her work constantly grows in scope and depth, replicating the mechanisms of human knowledge as she applies different focuses (psychoanalysis, reason, intuition, emotion) to her themes: the problems associated with the female condition, the ego and family infl uences, plus unconsciously acquired infl uences, the role of the artist, self-esteem and the need for recognition, positioning and reaction to the emergence of confl ict and the relationships of power.

Ultimately, I’d say that what motivates Inés’s work is the constant search for identity. A search that can probably be traced way back to the time when she was a young girl and her parent s emigrated to Bilbao, a move she replayed forty years later when she left Bilbao for New York, in the conviction that it would help her tackle with renewed energy and a broader perspective the themes and issues that had emerged in the previous forty years. Inés seems now to be gathering the fruit s of that decision as her work reaches, in my opinion, new height s of expression in what remains her last completed set, no. 18, The Joy of Self; a beguiling display of plastic expression, more accessible and refi ned in it s form than the previous ones, while more hypnotic and equally fathomless in content. As the search goes on, certain rough edges appear to have been smoothed and polished and uncertainties dispelled as the point s of reference become more evident. As the title suggest s, there are reasons for satisfaction, even joy. More than ever, Inés’s work stands up as both channel and mirror.

Sergio Sánchez-Pando
Writer

 

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