The Inner Faces of Carlota Arenas

By: Perán Erminy

The faces of Carlota Arenas are installed in the fabrics intensely as fictional characters, like imaginary entities that emerges from an inside core.

Milagros Bello
Art Critic


All her work suggests mobility or transformation by effect transparency on transparency.

Roberto González


Carlota P. Arenas is a disciple of mine for years, finding in her pictorial faculties that I hope to take her to occupy a high place in the panorama of Venezuelan Art.


Pedro Centeno V




Art Critic

Carlota Arenas is an artist of powerful sensitivity, imposing, with great certitude and fluid ease in her behaviour, with neither hesitation nor doubts. That is the basic foundation of her work. She is not a reflexive artist or a theorist. Her work is not based on thought but on feeling. She is an artist of action more than contemplation; more of painting than ideation. Her paintings work themselves out during their production, while she paints them, in a sort of dialogue with the materials and what is appearing to her in the canvas, at the mercy of her feeling and with the help of imagination and intuition, without having to calculate anything, but not disregarding reason, which remains present, supervising the course of creation and collaborating in the construction and coherence of the work.

During the process of producing the painting, which is not rigorously preceded by those stages that artists often dedicate to the conception of the project—beginning with an imprecise search for images through quick notes of a few spontaneous lines, halfway between imagination and the perfected drawing—it is the sketches, outlines, rough drafts, and adumbrations that generally constitute the first steps of a draft, which usually culminates in a more elaborate drawing that is the final study, sometimes with a little color.

All of that is reduced, or almost disappears, in the ideation and conception of Carlota Arenas’ works, since she limits herself to the brief mental exercise of manipulating diverse possibilities for the commencement of the work that later becomes self-conceptualizing and self-inventing as it begins to materialize on canvas.

Carlota Arenas is, in Venezuela, one of the rare monothematic artists, almost exclusively dedicated to painting human faces, or rather, female faces. Masculine faces are an exiguous minority, if we except the portraits of Armando Reverón, toward whom the artist holds the highest aesthetic devotion; of Christ, her greatest religious inspiration; and of Bolivar and Páez, her heroes since infancy.

Within her limited thematic repertoire, Carlota Arenas has painted several portraits, some meticulously academic and very realistic, of known figures, and others that are worked as freely as their anonymous and imaginary characters.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Arenas is the unlimited diversity of her pictorial processes: diversity that is evident and ostensive in the strokes of her paintings, their sketches, levels, colors, textures, shapes, distortions, internal contrasts, tensions and distensions, harmony, symmetry, proportions, rhythms, structures, means of internal articulation, and final cohesion that leaves something of an incomplete feeling.

Another of the most noteworthy characteristics is her virtuosity as shown in her adeptness of execution demonstrated in a thorough mastery of the painting profession and of the use of the most diverse techniques and materials in the production of her works.

In addition to her faces, Arenas has painted landscapes and has explored in other experimentations, such as installations, tapestries, and other mediums. Her landscapes are different from those of mainstream traditions in Venezuelan landscape painting. We would like to have dealt with those themes separately, those of landscapes and the extra-pictorial, but we think that by focusing on her faces or visages we are analyzing the essence of her creative work.

Visages is the favorite and predominating theme in the paintings of this artist. Immediately, or from the first time one approaches her work, that theme begs several questions: Are they portraits? Do they represent real or imaginary people? Might the faces be mere pretexts for painting?


To begin with, we are curious about the predilection itself. Given the innumerable possibilities of paintable objects, it is striking that artists limit themselves to always paint the same few themes: portraits, landscapes, nudes, flowers, still lifes, and virgins, without mentioning abstract works, geometrical or otherwise, that are less classifiable. It is unknown why it does not come to an artist's mind to paint other things from among the infinite subjects that exist in the universe and even more in the unlimited imagination.

In Carlota Arenas’ painting, the problem is reduced almost to the extreme. She only paints faces, and occasionally landscapes, with a few portraits as exceptions (Reverón, Bolivar, Christ), one image of a historical group of artists, and a few ephemeral, sculpturesque installations of a grand religious scene around the crucified Christ.

Why that thematic self-limitation? We dismiss, of course, any presumed technical inability since the artist demonstrated repeatedly her thorough mastery of drawing in many realistic works, executed with sure and rapid strokes.

The faces are almost all feminine (with the above-mentioned exceptions) and sometimes adorned with elegance or excess. All are represented with a sympathetic relationship, or something more—self-identification and empathy. Maybe it is that resource that in literature and art is known as an "oblique self-portrait," which is like painting the self through an interposed person, where the author paints a self-portrait using the features and identity of another person. In this case, the artist abandons the self in order to see it as another person, or vice versa. Alternatively, the artist dissimulates the self by adopting someone else’s appearance.

Other times, as is more frequent, the artist paints someone and, consciously or not, imbues it with many of the artist’s own qualities, with the artist’s own mental identity and physiognomy.

It is possible that in Carlota Arenas’ painting, not necessarily with her knowledge, recondite identities cross in permanent indistinctness.

In any case, these feminine faces are not painted to be recognized as anyone, for the author to see herself in the face of an Other, or to offer the image of "eternal femininity." These paintings, more than anything else, show themselves as paintings, as a way to paint faces, or as some imaginable visages transformed or transcribed into colored planes that are expressive in themselves.

Seeing them overall and comparing the various works, not only does the constructed and composite character of these images become manifest, but also their eminently plastic and pictorial nature, which depends on the language of the painting itself, on the rich diversity of the works' pictorial solutions and processes.

Also expressed is, not so much the relation between these paintings and reality, given that they are rather imaginative creations, but mainly the relationship between these works and the subjectivity of the artist.

The characters that emerge from these paintings are, as we have already said, imaginary, not representing the appearances of real people. And they do not try to appear real, as if they were painted by direct observation of women posing as models. Neither do they try to look like people of flesh and blood because these visages are, more than all else, paintings. They are presented as pictorial compositions, not as simulations of reality. What we appreciate in them is the beauty, grace, or vitality of the solutions met in the correct use of the painting's language. Or, in particular, the artist’s personal pictorial language. Beyond the visual and emotional effects provoked by the moving and spontaneous use of their formal language, it is not necessary to look for other narratives in these works. They do not call us to anything beyond themselves. They do not attempt to tell us of any kind of event that is not of those that develop in reciprocal relations among their pictorial components, like those that result from the interplay of tensions and distensions, attraction and repellence, the static and the dynamic, the powerful and the gentle, the exalted and the mild, and an unending etcetera. With the unlimited combinations between these dichotomies and polarities, the most diverse emotional and sensitive effects are obtained, those with which the artist constructs the expressive and discursive contents of her works

To further accentuate the natural expressiveness of her paintings, to emphasize them, the artist never resorts to using anything epic or tragic, neither does she use narrative or thematic dramatization. On the other hand, she does not resort to humor, comedy or irony.

Carlota Arenas has not given herself the challenge of trying to deceive the senses or intelligence to create the illusory impression of confusing images with reality, as Plato would denounce it in his time. On the contrary, despising any tendency of extreme realism, the artist persists in her untiring endeavor to experiment with all kinds of distortions and deformations of the features of her imaginary faces.

Parallel with this is the arousal of her Dionysian tendency that expresses itself in terms of ebriety and lack of restraint, but not separate from a certain dose of Apollonian thinking.

The only thing we know about Carlota Arenas’ imaginary characters is the momentary appearance of their faces, or even less, because we really do not know them at all. That word, “know,” would seem to be excessive, since at most we only perceive them. And, from this minor, though suggestive and strongly impressive meeting onward, we venture to imagine them just as each person sees fit.

These are not characters like those of Ingmar Bergman, overwhelmed with the heavy weight of their agonizing tribulations, nor are they passionate like those of Dostoievsky or Esquilo. Beside them, the characters of Carlota Arenas seem more "congenial" and less boisterous. They let themselves be led by our beliefs and even our fantasies.

But these characters, in which somehow we see ourselves as our own specular image, are exposed to our same darknesses, uncertainties, and fundamental (rather than fundamentalist) longings. They are personages that cannot hide their fragility or uncertainty. Thus, with all the language that brings them about, they lend themselves better to the so-called "language games."

We have referred to Bergman's faces in the sense in which Woody Allen, one of his most famous admirers and exegetes affirms that "the faces are everything for Bergman (...) it is the means he has found to show the landscape of the soul."

The deformations and emphatic strokes in Carlota Arenas' works emerge from a dual motivation on two different mental levels. On the one hand, on a conscious and voluntary level, the artist manifests a modern idea of western plastic arts (including national ones) that she has profoundly assimilated during all her life until it became absolutely hers, one in which her affinities for expressionist models and other trends close to or related to expressionism predominate, such as the almost formless figurations of the Cobra group, certain Spanish avant-gardes from Saura's generation, or those of the Latin-American new figuration of Deira, De La Vega, and Macció. The artist assimilated, personalized, and reformulated these possible imaginary models until she reinvented them, adjusting them to her personal pictorial language.

On the other hand, on a level in which the unconscious is present, the artist expresses a cryptic tradition of the labyrinthine, hermetic image that appears with its need to conceal, darken, and complexify and out of which the dark regions of the soul may emerge.

Arenas’ faces are barely more than mere pretexts for achieving, through them, a new personal experience in the spontaneous and free use of elements that integrate the language of her painting. The artist composes a kind of symphonic interplay of visual elements with colors and forms taken for themselves, without representing anything or referring to any theme unrelated to their own material reality.

To know Arenas' work better, it is worthwhile to compare it with that of other painters that coincide with the same predominating theme of faces not forgetting some of the noteworthy artists of this genre, beyond those masterful self-portraits by Reverón and Bárbaro Rivas that are "special" cases. It would be necessary to remember the classic faces of Héctor Poleo, the oneiric faces of Emerio Darío Lunar, the works by Manases with their infinite, exceedingly rich and diverse faces, those of Tulio Márquez with their simple and moving drawings, and those of Adonai Duque with their powerful planes.

Portraits and self-portraits, as well as the painting of faces, involve the look of a moment, even though the production of the work may have lasted several days. Biographies and autobiographies take place over time, while painting occurs in space. However, the painting of a face is not limited to the image in a single moment. Its "world" extends beyond spatial and temporal limits. Alongside the visages of Carlota Arenas there is much more than the images that the paintings show us. Those women invented by the artist are much more than mere faces. They are what these characters, for our glance, think they are, what they would like to have been, what others would see in them. They are also their ideals and their fears.

These three interpretations, inferred from the reference that the artist made about her manner of painting faces as landscapes, are understood in a lax, approximative way and are not rigidly exact, as one supposes the reference was made. And their possible interpretations would not be the three aforementioned, which are the most immediate and direct, and which lead us to ask other questions that the above entails, or that, rather, each one of them subdivides. In all of the options there is always a "representational deficit" that brings the problem back to us from its beginning.

As a personality, Carlota Arenas is a restless artist, curious, expectant, demanding of herself and her social environment. She seems to have always been a nonconformist, but a discrete one, respectful of others, never one to cause problems or aggressive, not even harsh. She requires of herself a conduct that is circumspect, wise, and prudent. Whatever restrained her, or she refrained from expressing publicly, she left to be released in her painting as a safety valve. That is how her personal nonconformity was, above all, internal. Her approach to art has not been marked by a search for novelty, for originality, nor was she was motivated by transgression in her creative attitude, as generally occurs with young, restless artists. What matters most to her is authenticity, in which she includes sincerity, spontaneity, and freedom in her creations.

She always seems to have rejected as foreign and alien the pictorial influences of the European and North American avant-guarde movements in order to focus, without shutting herself in, on the maturation of her own language. She refused to add herself to the formal models and pre-established pictorial visions in order to pursue her own pictorial world.

She kept her distance to stay away from any kind of intellectual affectation, not trusting what was saw as "intellectualist speculations," perhaps in reference to experimentations of a very rationalist nature.


Carlota Arenas’ painting is of great quality because it is produced with the sensitivity, taste, and hand of a great artist with neither stridence nor tremendousness and far from the dark and tangled artifices common in the avant-guardes.

Her painting has the virtue of immediately producing a pleasant and vigorous impression, like a shock to the spectator´s gaze, that makes one pause and enjoy the sensory richness of the textures, transparencies, modulations, and variations of her spontaneous stains of color that are of a delicate and yet, at the same time, impulsive and sudden refinement, always very harmonious with the expressive climate of her work.



Carlota Arenas